AT 19-YEARS-OLD, Sam Stanton is not quite as precocious as John Souttar and Ryan Gauld, the pair at the vanguard of Dundee United’s new breed of talented youngsters. It would also be wrong to claim he has only just made the breakthrough.
It was over two years ago that Stanton made his first-team debut as a substitute against Rangers at Ibrox, but injuries, one of which was sustained while on a loan spell with Cowdenbeath, hampered his progress. But it is fair to say that Stanton’s recent performances suggests there should be a similar level of excitement as surrounds Gauld and Souttar at what he might go on and do in the game.
Tomorrow night provides the opportunity to monitor perhaps the best of the current crop of Scottish youngsters as Hibs entertain Dundee United at Easter Road. There are likely to be more than a few scouts present also, which is one reason why Hibs are so keen to agree a new contract with Stanton, who, along with Souttar and Gauld, has been named in the Scotland Under-21 squad for next week’s match with Hungary.
Hibs manager Terry Butcher confirmed that this was a priority earlier this week, with Stanton’s present deal due to expire next summer. He has started the last four games for the Easter Road side since making his full debut against Celtic last month and in this short time he has managed to excite the Hibs supporters as well as catch the eye of Billy Stark, the Scotland Under-21 manager.
It is little wonder that he sat wide-eyed at a table yesterday and said he felt that “everything is going really fast” for him at present, which is a pleasant change to when he feared he was being left behind by other former Under-19 team-mates who made the step into the Hibs first-team before he did. The pace of current developments is welcome after the two-year hiatus between Stanton making a smattering of first-team appearances in 2012 and joining the first-team fold again at the start of this season. Even then he had to patiently wait until January – and a change in manager – to make his first start. It seems scarcely believable that he has already been called-up by the Scotland Under-21s and Stanton admits it is another “big step” in his career.
“I was absolutely delighted to get the call-up for the Under-21 side,” he said. “It’s my first call-up after playing for the 19s and 18s. Everything has being going really fast for me recently – I only got my first start a couple of weeks ago and now I am in the Scotland Under-21 squad. I am delighted.
“The boys who have played for the 21s have said it is a very high level,” he added. “It’s a big step up from the 19s level, even considering there were some very good footballers in that age group. Most have said that it’s pretty similar to first-team football and if you come up against countries with good talent it could be even better.”
The call-up is testimony to his determination to improve himself, something Butcher has already spoken about recently. Stanton paid his manager a visit at the end of last year after deciding to try and discover just what he needed to do to earn a sustained opportunity. He left with a piece of paper on which were written five steps to self-improvement – and a place in the first team. “I went in to speak to him personally because I was wanting to push on and make myself a bit better, so I asked him: ‘How do I get in your team? What do I need to improve’?”
recalled Stanton yesterday.
“He gave me a list of five things to work on and I have tried to do that. I have felt the benefit. One of the things he said was to play quicker when I receive the ball and be more direct and I have tried to do that.
“There were a couple of things that I thought: ‘Oh, I’ve never thought about that’! However, you can always keep improving and getting better.”
Now set to be rewarded with a new contract, there is little doubt the visit to see Butcher has been proved to be worthwhile. “I’d be absolutely delighted to talk about a new contract,” said Stanton.
“I’ve been here a long time and I love this club very much so it would be great. Any decision about your future is a big one and, if you are offered something down south, I’m sure it is difficult to say no – especially if big teams come in for you.
“However, for myself I want to play football and this is where I am developing and enjoying it. I’m happy here.
“When you have a manager who shows so much faith in you, it makes a difference. And when someone shows that faith in you, it’s good to pay it back.”