The essence of what Tom Taiwo is about was summed up in the dying seconds of Hibernian’s victory over Ross County last weekend. Having already scored his side’s second goal, Taiwo was in the right place to block a strong shot that had looked set to hand the visitors a share of the points.
The midfielder celebrated his intervention with more gusto than was apparent after he had scored his first goal of the season earlier in the game. He has distinguished himself as a midfielder who likes to do the simple things well; who keeps the ball moving but who takes as much satisfaction – or possibly more, he admits – from breaking down opposition moves, as was illustrated last weekend. But more than anything, he just wants to be involved, which is why he found his exclusion from the first-team environment in the period after Terry Butcher took over so difficult to accept.
Now in the midst of a far more productive burst of activity having started Hibs’ last three matches, he admits that it once looked as though his days at the club were numbered. “I was in the stand so when that happens it is never nice and you have to think about your future,” he said prior to today’s clash with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Butcher and Taiwo shared an initial chat and the player was concerned that the new manager’s plans for him did not appear particularly extensive. “He just spoke to me and told me the role he saw me playing – which didn’t look like a very prominent one at the time,” recalled Taiwo. “But obviously things have changed quite quickly.”
Although he made substitute appearances in Butcher’s first two matches in charge, the midfielder did not appear again until he was suddenly parachuted back into the side in the recent 4-0 defeat to Celtic, where he played from the start and caught the eye in what was a competitive Hibs performance until late Celtic goals lent the final scoreline a harsh appearance. He has kept his place in both of Hibs’ matches since.
“The manager has been the same with me, nothing has changed in terms of my role at the club,” he said. “I have to keep working hard to keep my place in the team. However, he has shown that if you play well and the results are coming he won’t necessarily change things. That’s how it should be especially with players like young Sammy [Sam Stanton] coming through.”
Both Stanton and Taiwo have been more than useful additions in recent weeks; in the former’s case he has established himself in the first team, while the latter has proved that Butcher is not averse to changing his mind providing a player gives him reason to do so. “What I’m pleased about is that I seem to have shown the manager what I can do and he seems happy with the role I have played so far,” he said.
“The future for me at the moment is Kilmarnock and the game after that and trying to stay in the team. And not only do we need to win but I need to perform well enough to keep some of the top players we have out of the side. It’s about pride.”
Taiwo is pleased to have added goals – or at least a goal – to his game this season. “Goals are important and I feel I am energetic and I have a good side to my game defensively,” he said. “And if I can offer more going forward then maybe I will get even more chances. I know what I am good at, I know what my strengths are. But all good players want to improve and aspire to something better. For me the next step would be to try and get five goals a season and then maybe ten. You set yourself these targets. At the moment it is just trying to get into the box, that’s how the chance came last Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Kilmarnock defender Jeroen Tesselaar has revealed he might have to wear a mask for the rest of his career.
The 25-year-old has worn the protective face-shield in recent games after suffering a recurring broken nose. The Dutchman said: “I broke my nose at the beginning of the season two weekends in a row, and now I broke it again. So I need to wear some protection. I don’t know for how long yet. Until the summer for sure but maybe forever. You get used to it because I train every day with the mask as well.”
Tesselaar and his team-mates have shown they can adapt to new situations already this season after turning around their early-season form. Kilmarnock took 11 games to win under manager Allan Johnston after a summer of upheaval on and off the pitch but can close the gap on seventh-placed Hibs to two points if they beat Butcher’s men. And Tesselaar believes they can launch a late push for the top six if they were to follow that with victory over his former club, St Mirren, the following weekend.
“We had a bad start to the season, we had a lot of new players and we had to get used to each other,” he said. “But everyone has got to know each other and the manager and we need a good spell now.”