Daniel Handling admits his role in Hibs’ semi-final comeback has given him a major confidence boost as he seeks to earn a starting place.
The 19-year-old replaced midfielder Scott Robertson just after Falkirk went 3-0 up in the 30th minute of the William Hill Scottish Cup clash at Hampden last weekend. The forward played wide right in the second half, with fellow teenager Alex Harris impressing on the left, and helped Hibs book a final meeting with Celtic with some direct play as they came back to win 4-3.
All but one of Handling’s 15 appearances for Hibs have come from the bench and the teenager could be given a longer run in tonight’s SPL clash with Aberdeen at Easter Road.
Handling said: “My confidence has shot up massively because of what happened last Saturday. I still can’t get over how we won the game after the first-half performance but it’s starting to sink in now. We were 3-0 down and the gaffer has thrown me in, so it shows the faith he does have in me after all and I hope I repaid some of that faith with a contribution to the win.
“Any first-team game you play in, your confidence shoots up, so to play in a semi-final was unbelievable.
“Hopefully I will keep getting the chances but I will take each game as it comes and keep working hard in training and keep trying to improve and catch his eye. Last season at this time I was on loan at Berwick so it just shows the difference that can happen in football in a year.”
Handling hit seven goals in seven games for Berwick and has continued to impress manager Pat Fenlon this season. And the Irishman admits Harris and Handling could have a big part to play in the remainder of the season.
Fenlon said: “The two of them did very well. Alex started the game and did quite well for us through the whole game and Danny came on and made a big impact. I’m delighted for him because he has had to be patient and wait his turn. He came on against Motherwell earlier in the season and did well and scored a goal and maybe feels he should have had a bit more of a taste of it, which is a fair point. Now he has got an opportunity, he has got himself right into the shop window for a start and that’s credit to himself for the work he has done.”
Fenlon has fitness doubts over midfielders Robertson, Gary Deegan and Kevin Thomson while defender Ryan McGivern is suspended.
Aberdeen defender Mark Reynolds has targeted five victories from the final weeks of the season as the Dons look to inspire their fans for next season.
Derek McInnes takes charge of Aberdeen for the first time tonight after a 1-0 defeat by Dundee United in Craig Brown’s final match in charge consigned Aberdeen to a fourth consecutive season in the bottom six. Reynolds admits they need to show their supporters there is scope for improvement, and said: “It’s five big games. I know the season is over in terms of doing something in the league but I think everyone is looking forward towards next season now. The fans and players want to build something and it’s important we show a style of football and that the team he (McInnes) is going to put together can do something next season – and excite the fans and bring them in.
“There are five massive games. We are looking to win the five of them. There is no reason why we can’t. It’s important we show the supporters that we will have a decent team next year and that it’s going to be something that can challenge at the right end of the league.”
Aberdeen face a Hibs side on a high following their cup comeback, but Reynolds has noticed a fresh spark about the Dons squad since McInnes started taking training. “When a new manager comes in there is a wee bit extra energy and brightness with new ideas,” added Reynolds. “Everyone is out to impress – players who have been playing want to show why they have been getting the nod and the other players are trying to show why they should be there. There are also boys who are playing for a contract. There are a lot of factors but everyone has upped their game because the new manager is in.
“It’s always like that when any new manager comes in at any club.”