Just a year after finishing a loan stint with Third Division Berwick Rangers, rookie defender Jordon Forster is primed to carry Hibs’ hopes on his young shoulders in tomorrow’s Scottish Cup final.
The 19-year-old has made only three first-team appearances for Hibs – all in the past fortnight – and finds himself in line to start after captain James McPake failed to shake off a back injury in time for the Easter Road club’s latest crack at history-making.
Such has been the impression Forster has made in helping Hibs to three successive league victories, there are those who feel he has done enough to warrant a cup final berth regardless of the fitness of others.
Considering he’d never kicked a ball for the Hibs top team until 13 days ago, his unlikely rise to prominence may have come as a surprise to some. But not for Robbie Horn who, as Berwick assistant manager, watched closely as Forster took his first dip into “men’s football” with the Shielfield club at the tail end of last season.
“To be honest, I’m not that surprised that Jordon’s done so well for Hibs,” insisted Horn, a former Hearts youngster who went on to have a stellar career in the SFL. “When he came to us, I’m not sure Hibs actually saw him as a potential first-team player, and he was very frustrated because he wasn’t getting a look-in.
“That was to our benefit, though. We were really impressed with him. After I saw him play and, no disrespect to the guys who were playing for Hibs at the time, but with them struggling in the SPL, I thought ‘why’s this boy not getting a look-in there?’ He was aggressive, comfortable on the ball and had good pace about him.
“He had all the makings of a really good centre-half and I think he’s shown that in the few games that he’s played. He’s done really well and not looked out of place at all in the Hibs first team.”
While three relatively meaningless end-of-season SPL games in the bottom six may have provided Forster with a relatively smooth introduction to life in the Hibs first team, things could get a whole lot more frenzied if he finds himself in combat with Celtic tomorrow, with the eyes of a nation looking on. Having seen Forster overcome the disappointment of being shunted to the periphery at Hibs last year, Horn is adamant he has the right temperament to cope amid the bedlam of Hampden.
“I’d have no fears about him playing in the final,” he said. “I think he’s got a winning mentality. He was a very determined young man. His attitude was absolutely spot-on and he had a great will to win when he trained and played. He was a really nice guy to boot; a very level-headed character. He deserves all the plaudits because he’s worked incredibly hard to get back in the picture at Hibs.”
Horn is adamant that the time Forster, who also he had a stint at East Fife earlier this season, spent with the Borderers last year was crucial to his development.
“I think Jordon’s time at Berwick gave him that wee bit of confidence and belief to go on and show he was good enough to play for Hibs,” he said. “Sometimes people worry about the gap between playing in the lower leagues and the SPL, but I’m not sure that gap’s as big as it used to be.
“We had Danny Handling down last season as well and he scored goals and then went back and got into the first team, so it’s great experience for young boys like that to come to a place like Berwick and get the opportunity to play competitive football against men. I think it’s better than just playing in the under-20 league.”
Horn admits he and Berwick manager Ian Little will look on with a sense of pride if Forster – or Handling, who looks less likely to be involved – feature in the final. “I’m delighted to see Jordon getting his opportunity in the Hibs first team,” he said. “Hopefully he starts or at least plays a part in the final. We take a lot of satisfaction in seeing guys like Jordon and Danny go on and get their chance after doing well for us. It would be a wee feather in the cap for Berwick Rangers if either of them play in the final.
“We’ll obviously want to take boys on loan from Hibs and Hearts in the future and our selling point to them is to look at guys like Jordon Forster and Danny Handling and say, ‘look what can happen if you send them to us.’
“We’ll be professional with them, treat them the right way and the clubs will get back a player who has got a bit of confidence and is ready to play.”