ALTHOUGH Terry Butcher was in the mood to give little away yesterday, it is understood teenage midfielder Sam Stanton is set to start his first match for Hibernian against champions Celtic almost two years since making his debut for the club.
Stanton’s image adorns the front cover of the match programme for tomorrow’s league clash. While this is rarely a reliable indicator of a manager’s team plans, Stanton’s name was mentioned several times during yesterday’s pre-match briefing as Butcher pondered how to cope with Scott Robertson’s suspension.
Stanton has featured as a substitute in each of Hibs’ last four matches and came on at half-time in last weekend’s defeat to St Mirren, with his side trailing 3-0. Hibs reduced the deficit to one in the second-half and now Stanton is slated to play from the start against Celtic at Easter Road in tomorrow’s televised lunchtime clash.
The midfielder made his debut as a 17 year-old when he came on a substitute for Tom Soares in the league clash with Rangers in January 2012. He has since made a further 19 appearances as substitute for the first-team although he also spent an injury-interrupted spell out on loan with Cowdenbeath.
“It would be great if the youngsters were to play,” the manager smiled, when he was asked specifically about selecting youngsters against Celtic, who are unbeaten in the league this season. “I am not saying they will, I am not saying they won’t.
“I keep forgetting how old they are sometimes; people like Stanton, [Jordon] Forster and even [Jason] Cummings have been around for some time now.
“For us it is only a matter of weeks since we have arrived,” he added, with reference to both himself and assistant manager Maurice Malpas. “But Stanton in particular has been in the first team for some time – he made his debut two years ago. He is an experienced youngster if there is such a thing. And that excites me.”
Hibs yesterday confirmed the details of a six-figure sponsorship deal with sports drink company iPro Sport, who become the club’s “official hydration partner”. However, it was the fountain of youth that Butcher focused on yesterday, as he dismissed criticism that he is not a great advocate of playing youngsters. “Someone said to me when I first came here that I don’t promote youngsters very well,” he said. “I never seem to have a lot of young players coming through. In all fairness to Caley Thistle the youth system does very well, but there is not the catchment area that Hibs have, or the facilities and coaches and scouts.”
Butcher is well aware of Hibs’ tradition for producing young players of worth and remarked that this was clear to see by simply looking at the wall in Bill Hendry’s office. The head of the Hibs youth academy has photographs of all those who have prospered since coming through the youth system at the club – including the player Stanton will line up against tomorrow, Celtic skipper Scott Brown.
“It is phenomenal,” Butcher admitted. However, he is cautious of being too cavalier when it comes to blooding young players. He knows it can become a grueling experience if a manager attempts to rely on too many at the same time, as Hearts manager Gary Locke has been forced to do at a club mired in administration. Celtic tore the young Tynecastle side apart in the Scottish Cup late last year with a 7-0 win in Edinburgh.
“It is not a case of having to play the youngsters now, but whether you decide to play them,” pointed out Butcher. “They are exciting but they are not perfect. There are still faults. But their strengths outweigh the faults. And the innocence is good to see too, although we do not want too much innocence on Sunday.
“Even teams who have battle-hardened pros have been turned over by Celtic,” he added. “We saw what Celtic did to the younger kids at Hearts. We have not quite gone to that extreme using our kids as Hearts, they have had to do that. We have good senior pros allied with the kids – that can make a good blend.”