IF new Hibs striker James Collins harboured any doubts about the wisdom of joining a team which shipped seven goals to Malmo shortly after he signed for them, he did an excellent job of hiding them yesterday as he looked ahead to making his debut tomorrow.
With the ink barely dry on his three-year contract, Collins, who had flown back to England the same day, kept tabs on a calamitous European evening for Hibs from afar.
The 7-0 reverse was a huge embarrassment for a club which for many years boasted a proud record in Europe, but Collins remains convinced he has made the right move from Swindon to what he described as a “massive Scottish club.”
“I was back in England (for the Malmo game),” he said. “I flew home that afternoon and I saw what was happening on the internet, but it was out of my hands and that’s in the past now.
“We just have to look forward to the Motherwell game on Sunday and put it right. I came up and spoke to the gaffer and had a look around the facilities and liked what he had to say.
“I didn’t know a lot about Hibs before that. I knew about the fanbase and that it was a massive club in Scotland, but I didn’t realise the size of the stadium, the training ground or the ambition of the club so it was a really good thing for me to come and see.”
While the one-time flood of Scottish players to top English clubs has slowed to a trickle, many players from north of the border continue to head south to teams which would once have been regarded as inferior to those competing in Scotland’s top flight. The wages on offer, even at lower league clubs, can trump anything most Scottish clubs can offer, but Collins is adamant his switch to Hibs is a major step-up in his career and cited the success of Leigh Griffiths at Easter Road – as well as Celtic’s Gary Hooper – as examples of how to put yourself in the shop window.
“I think this league is equivalent to the Championship in England,” he said. “I feel I can boost my profile up here. I have done well in the lower divisions in England so coming here to the top tier of Scotland is definitely a test for me.
“Gary Hooper got a massive move to the Premier League and Anthony Stokes has done really well up here, so I think if you can come to Scotland and do well you make a name for yourself.
An entirely different build to Griffiths, the 6ft 2in Collins believes he will be able to put his weight about more than his predecessor as he strives to match what the talismanic on-loan Wolves striker did so well for Hibs – score goals.
“Leigh did great for the club and is a hero to the fans – and I think he will do well in England,” added Collins. “But I am different to him. Hopefully I can do as well as he did last year and get the fans on board too.
“As a striker you are always expected to score goals, that’s your job. I scored 18 goals last year and I want to try and do better or match that.”
When questioned on the effect the Malmo defeat has had on his new team-mates’ morale, Collins said they appeared to have consigned that painful memory to history.
“My first session was on Monday and I have trained the past two days,” he said. “The boys looked sharp and looked to have forgotten about what had happened. Rightly so, because there’s no point dwelling on what happened. If you use it to spur you on it can become a good thing in some sense. ”
Hibs supporters, the majority of whom had been approaching the season with cautious optimism before the Malmo game – for which over 16,00 rolled up – will hope Collins is correct and that the players are ready to atone for inflicting so much pain on them..
Former Kilmarnock defender Michael Nelson, meanwhile, is also set to make his Hibs debut against Motherwell after being signed to fill a defensive void.
Nelson signed from Bradford on Thursday night with James McPake (back), Tim Clancy (groin), Ryan McGivern (knee) and Jordon Forster (suspended) all missing, while young defender Bradley Donaldson is also out with a knock. Hibs are also without suspended forward Rowan Vine and Paul Cairney (ankle) but midfielder Owain Tudur Jones has recovered from the knock that kept him out of the Malmo debacle and should be fit to face Stuart McCall’s visitors.