Despite cutting an accomplished figure at the heart of the Hibernian midfield, Sam Stanton admits there are plenty of techniques he has still to perfect. His autograph being one.
Displaying a characteristic coy smile and shy demeanour, you sense the trappings of life as the brightest young prospect at Easter Road will not necessarily come naturally to the quiet lad with the famous surname.
Being stopped in the streets of Edinburgh by supporters is becoming increasingly commonplace, while he has found himself the butt of many a dressing room joke for his “big time” rise from youth player at Hibs to Scotland under-21 international. Yesterday, however, the recognition he was receiving came from the SPFL, in the form of a young player of the month award for a February in which he scored two goals in four appearances.
That will further bolster his burgeoning reputation, and ensure he will soon have his signature scribble down to an exact science.
“The award caps off a really good month for me,” said Stanton, who only made his first start for the club on 26 April against Celtic. “Everything seems to have happened very quickly. Just to be playing at first was special, and then the Scotland under-21s appearance, and now this. I know I have set a high standard for myself but, hopefully, I can keep it going. It’s been a strange time. I live in Edinburgh, down at Trinity, and I am starting to get recognised now when I go out to the shops.
“I have signed a few autographs and it felt weird because it’s something I’m definitely not used to it.
“But it’s a nice feeling. I do try my best when it happens. . . but my signature is still a bit off sometimes! It’s getting there. I have been getting a wee bit of stick from the boys in the dressing room about it now and then. I am sure they will have plenty to say about the award as well. They have already been winding me up about my Scotland call-up, saying I’m big time now. I can’t do anything without them saying something. But it’s all been a good laugh.”
Stanton is certainly not about to believe the hype, and admits that he does not yet consider himself a fully-fledged first-team player, despite starting – and excelling in – Hibs’ last seven fixtures.
“I still think I have a lot to learn and improve on before I can consider myself a regular,” said the 19-year-old. “So I’ll keep working away and do as well as I can in training and games.”
Never one to miss the chance to accentuate the positives, Hibs boss Terry Butcher was beaming with pride as Stanton collected his award for his fantastic February. Butcher was also evidently tickled by the thought of Stanton coming to terms with the increased attention he has received amid his rise to prominence.
“He is very level-headed and you can see he is embarrassed [by some of the attention] because he goes red in the face,” laughed Butcher. “But I’m absolutely thrilled for him. He is from a long line of excellent Hibs youngsters and, if you look at the players who have left this club that had good seasons here and played a lot of football for the club, then I’m sure Sam will do exactly that. He’s come a long way in the time we have been here. He has gone from not being in the squad, to being in the team, to the Scotland set-up and now he is picking up awards.”
Butcher revealed that Hibs are now officially in talks with Stanton’s agent regarding a new deal at Easter Road with his current contract expiring in the summer of 2015 – before turning his thought to a pivotal trip to face Partick Thistle this afternoon.
Hibs trail St Johnstone by four points, with the Perth side boasting a game in hand, so Hibs realistically need a win against Thistle today to keep their faint hopes of a top-six finish alive. “It’s coming down to the wire now, do or die time, and we know everybody has to give it everything,” Butcher acknowledged. “There is no room for error, and effort and attitude need to be spot on. They need to be brave and pass the ball like they can do. These players have won games as a team, home and away, and it will take more of those performances in the next four games – and probably a bit more.”
It was also confirmed that Hibs’ back-up goalkeeper Sean Murdoch will be on standby to start at Firhill at short notice. Ben Williams’ wife, Gemma, was due to give birth last weekend and, with the 31-year-old desperate to be by her side, Butcher is bracing himself for the absence of his first-choice keeper at short notice. Butcher said: “It’s all quiet on the baby front, for the moment. So he will be in goals for us until the first contractions...he’s in contraction negotiations, you could say.”
Meanwhile, Partick Thistle player-coach Paul Gallacher is happy to keep Scott Fox out of the team – despite being responsible for the goalkeeper’s development.
Gallacher has made seven consecutive appearances, even though Fox has now recovered from the injury that forced him out of the side. Gallacher was brought to Firhill in a dual role last summer and believes both he and Fox can push each other to higher standards if they continue to work together.
The 34-year-old, said: “It’s fantastic to get a run of games. It’s been a long time coming. Obviously, Scott started the season and did fantastically well and got a Scotland call-up as well. But a bit of misfortune on his part opened the door for me and I have come in and feel I have done reasonably well. I will just look to continue my form and, hopefully, stay in the team.”