Alex Harris is eager to make up for lost time after ending his injury exile from the first team on Friday when coming on for the final minutes against Aberdeen.
The fact Harris managed only one touch of the ball – he also admits he could have made a better job of closing down Willo Flood before he scored the late winning goal – has not dimmed his enthusiasm as he prepares to reclaim his starting spot.
It has been a long haul. Harris injured his ankle in the first league game of the season against Motherwell and still has a pin inserted in the bone following an operation. It means he missed the end of Pat Fenlon’s reign. Like many Hibs players, he was sorry to see Fenlon go, as the Irishman was a great supporter of his. It was under Fenlon that Harris broke into the team at the end of last season.
Now he must attempt to recapture the form he showed then to convince Terry Butcher of his talents, although Harris has revealed that the new manager has already handed him a vote of confidence by telling him he has “big plans” for the winger. Some of Harris’s rehabilitation after injury was spent on the sofa watching DVDs of The Sopranos and Homeland as he waited for the broken bone to heal. He is desperate to play a less sedentary role now.
Presumably Butcher’s plans for Harris extend to more than just the single touch of the ball the player was able to get on Friday night in a ten-minute cameo appearance. Butcher was able to laugh about this earlier this week. “Alex ran around and got one touch – I am looking for him to get more than one touch next time!” he said, with reference to the winger’s long-awaited comeback at Pittodrie. Harris is hoping to make more of a contribution against St Mirren at Easter Road this weekend.
“The manager told me he had big plans for me and that was great to hear,” said Harris. “I just wanted to keep working hard and force my way back into his plans.
“It was nice to feel wanted by the club and it was great to hear Terry Butcher say that. The old manager thought highly of me during his time here. When a new manager comes in, there is a period of uncertainty but Terry was great and it felt good to be reassured by him.
“The manager told me to make sure that I came back when I was ready,” he added, following a five-month period on the sidelines. “Terry understood that it was my first injury and he told me not to rush back and to take my time recovering. It is up to the manager now to tell me that I am ready to start a match.”
Harris has been further buoyed by Butcher’s commitment – both at Hibs and Inverness – to play with wingers, although the wide players in possession of the jerseys are doing as well as anyone at present. Lewis Stevenson’s return to the left side of midfield has done wonders for his game, while Paul Cairney has been rejuvenated under Butcher, having come back from his own spell on the sidelines due to injury. Harris is aware he has a battle on his hands.
“I am desperate to make up for lost time,” he said. “Competition for places is good and I will have to fight for my place back in the team but I thrive on that and I am raring to as I want to kick-start my season.”
As a supporter watching from the sidelines, he was always desperate for Hibs to win, even though it might create more difficulties for him securing a place in the team. “Is it harder being out when the team are doing well or struggling?” he wondered. “I think I feel better when they are doing well. My team-mates are my friends so I want them to win.
“I am also a Hibs supporter so it is great to see the team win. I was at Easter Road for the New Year derby win over Hearts and the place was bouncing so it is definitely better when Hibs are winning.”
It is certainly less hazardous for the players, who endured their first taste of Butcher’s dressing-room histrionics after the defeat by Aberdeen on Friday. The manager admitted he had thrown and kicked some things around the room, and that the players – including three teenagers, all of whom had come on in the second half – had looked back at him with “big, wide, scared eyes”. Harris admitted it was a shock to the system.
“It was the first time that I’d been in a team that had lost under Terry,” he said. “Everybody knew that it was a disappointment and that we did not play as well as we could. But we all knew that a loss would come sooner rather than later and we can’t win every game.
“I have to take the blame for the goal against Aberdeen and I am man enough to do that,” Harris added. “It was my fault and I had just been on the pitch a short length of time and I am sure I will close the space down quick enough the next time.”