HAVING felt like a square peg in a round hole during Pat Fenlon’s tenure, Danny Handling believes he fits perfectly into new Hibs manager Terry Butcher’s vision for the Easter Road club.
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder was an immediate beneficiary of Butcher’s arrival when he was handed his first starting appearance for Hibs since August in last Saturday’s 0-0 draw at St Mirren.
Handling was deployed in a position just off the main central striker where his energetic display gained the instant approval of Butcher. As he looks to build on that positive first impression in today’s William Hill Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Ross County in Dingwall, Handling has expressed his satisfaction at being relocated from the wide right midfield position where Fenlon preferred to use him.
“Playing there under the old manager was a first for me, I had never played there before,” said Handling. “I was getting used to it, but then he got sacked. The new gaffer has come in and obviously played me in my natural position, which is my best position – and hopefully the most beneficial to the team.
“It’s good for the team all round, not just me. Look at Lewis Stevenson, who is very versatile and has played in a number of positions this season. But it’s great to see him also get a chance in his natural position now, which is on the left-hand side. So it’s good for everyone, because they’re getting a chance to play in their right positions.
“At first it is difficult to adapt to a position you’ve never played before. You don’t know exactly what to do, how the game is going to go. After a couple of games at right midfield, I was getting used to the role, understanding it more and more. But the first few games were difficult to understand what I was supposed to be doing.
“My best role is in that ‘number 10’ position, just dropping in behind the striker. The gaffer has come in and given me an opportunity to show what I can do there. Obviously he has liked what he’s seen, so long may that continue. He definitely wants the ball forward quicker, he’s more direct. It has to go forward as fast as we can. That’s obviously good for strikers but there is also a lot of pressure and responsibility, because you have to keep possession and wait for players to get up in support.
“It’s been enjoyable so far under the new management. Before the St Mirren game, I only trained once on the Thursday. That was the first time the gaffer had seen me and I think I made an impression. I felt as if I did quite well.
“I didn’t score a hat-trick or anything like that in the training session. I just think the manager likes people who work hard and put the effort in – honest players. I try to be the best I can be. If that’s what the gaffer likes, it’s good enough for me. He was happy enough to put me in the team and I think, last Saturday, that he was happy enough. So I’m enjoying my football again.”
Handling has a Scottish Cup runners-up medal from last season’s final against Celtic when he made a late substitute appearance for Eoin Doyle in Hibs’ 3-0 defeat. Even as one of the less experienced members of the first-team squad, he is fully cogniscant of the significance of the tournament to the Easter Road club and their quest to land the game’s oldest silverware for the first time since 1902.
“We have to try to keep positive about it,” he said. “With me being one of the younger ones, the older guys are making me aware of what these Scottish Cup games are actually like. I’ve played in one or two, but nothing compared to what they’ve been through.
“You do get fans coming up to you in the street and telling you how desperate they are to see Hibs win the trophy. You have to take it on the chin, listen to them and hopefully go out and please them. There is a bit of pressure because we’ve been to the last two finals, obviously without winning. But we want to reach that stage again. Once you get there, it’s unbelievable, such a difference to your ordinary games. A massive pitch, huge stadium, grand occasion – it’s a Cup Final experience. If we can get there again this year, it would be a great achievement.
“We’ve set our standards high, although if we get knocked out, there’s not much we can do. We don’t have a good record at Ross County, I don’t really know why that is. We’ve been unlucky up there in the past. But we’re not focusing on that, we’re going up there to win the game. No qualms about it, we’re going there trying to win, we won’t be mucking about. We’ll be positive from the start.”