SAM Stanton has insisted that all the praise he has received this season will count for nothing if Hibernian end up in the relegation play-offs.
The midfielder signed a new four-year deal with the Easter Road club yesterday, and is confident he will still be playing in the Premiership next season.
Stanton turns 20 tomorrow when Hibs visit St Mirren, and he could have a double cause for celebration by the end of the afternoon as an away win will come close to ensuring his team’s safety. But whatever happens in Paisley, he is confident Hibs have what it takes to stay up, and explained that fears of what division the club might be in next season had no bearing on his decision to stay.
“You always have to have a think about your options and weigh up what you can do, but it was quite an easy decision for me, being a Hibs fan and being at Hibs for so many years,” Stanton said yesterday. “It’s nice that the club have shown loyalty in me and think I’m a good asset.
“My main aim is to keep the club in the league now, which I think we’re more than capable of doing. You never know what’s going to happen, but with the group of players we’ve got I think we can pick up points.
“The league table does not lie. We’re on a very bad run of form, but I think training with the team every day and playing with the team, I know there is quality in there. The next five games have turned into very big games: one win could give us a very nice cushion going into the next four.”
Stanton’s form has been one of the few bright factors of Hibs’ season this far. But as a lifelong supporter of the club, and having joined as a player aged 12, he is far more concerned about avoiding relegation than he is about receiving more plaudits, no matter how well-deserved.
“It wouldn’t mean anything,” he said when asked how he would assess that praise if Hibs were to drop from their current position of seventh and finish the season in 11th place. “It’s never nice losing games of football, no matter what age you play at or who you play for.
“Being at a team like Hibs, you can’t get away with losing a lot and it’s been quite difficult. But I’ve been absolutely delighted to just be playing. I’m very privileged to be playing for Hibs and I’m delighted about it. I’ve not thought about it [playing in the Championship] at all.”
Hibs’ assistant manager Maurice Malpas has seen Stanton improve significantly, even in the short time he and Terry Butcher have been at the club. But, while he is sure that the teenager can go on to play at a higher level, Malpas suggested that, for the time being, his continued development would be best served by playing regular first-team football in Scotland.
“He’s got a right good chance,” Malpas said. “But don’t jump the gun too much.
“I think we’ve got a lot of excellent young players in Scottish football. I think we just knock them too much – and they get bad advice and go away down South because they’re getting a buck more than they’re getting up here. And they get stuck – they go and play in under-20 football or whatever age group it is in England and they stop progressing. They lose that buzz because they’re not playing in front of a crowd.
“It’s good that we’ve kept Sam here, so Sam learns his trade here and does well for the club. I’m sure at some time in the future people will become interested in him – then, as opposed to him disappearing now and being forgotten about. I know there were clubs watching him. But we were keen for him to stay, he likes the club – and he knows the club far better than I do – so it was quite easy in that he was keen to get something sorted and so were we. And that was it done.
“He’s got things that excite the crowd. At one v one he’s a handful. He’s very athletic and he’s got great energy.
“That’s the type of person that the fans love to see – an attacking type as opposed to defensive types that fans don’t really pay to come and see.
“Sam has earned himself a four-year deal with what he’s done. Since we’ve been here he’s been excellent – a young kid, a lovely lad who’s desperate to learn and improve.
“Level-headed, and on the pitch he has shown his ability: he can beat people, he’s got a change of pace, he’s energetic and he can score a goal. He’s been a breath of fresh air coming into the first team and having an impact.
“When we first came I think he was a sub at best. Then he got his chance and he took it – he was ready for it. And he’s handled it well. He doesn’t get carried away, and he works hard.
“He listens and learns. He was keen to stay and the club were keen to keep him as well.”