Hibs striker James Keatings eyes hat-trick of promotions

Hibernian's James Keatings won promotion with both Hamilton and Hearts. Picture: Ross Brownlee/SNS

Hibernian's James Keatings won promotion with both Hamilton and Hearts. Picture: Ross Brownlee/SNS

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After three goals on Tuesday against Dumbarton, James Keatings has already ensured he will finish a third successive season in double figures, for a third different team. Now he is desperate to make it a hat-trick of promotions.

If the striker helps Hibs into the Premiership, it will be the third year in a row he has tasted such a triumph following success with Hamilton in 2014 and Hearts last season.

But, in a quirk of fate, he has only played four top-flight games, when on loan at St Johnstone from Celtic in 2011-12. He has left in the summer following his previous two promotion successes, joining clubs back in the second tier.

So he is particularly desperate to taste the fruits of his labour this time, while also accepting that whatever happens, it is bound to be tense, particularly given the possibility that second place could be decided on goal difference.

“That last two years have been amazing for me, getting promoted,” said Keatings, who also has next month’s Scottish Cup final against Rangers to look forward to. “You want to play in successful teams and I’ve come to Hibs and I want that again, I want a third promotion. I want a medal again.

“Hamilton and Hearts were two very good sides. They showed character to come through both times. Obviously,
Hamilton did it the hard way [via the play-offs]. Last season, Hearts went up as champions. But it’s up to us to show the character we’ve got in that dressing room and get through this.”

When Hamilton went up two years ago, it was at the expense of his current team, Hibs, in the play-off final. But Keatings was on the bench when Hamilton were denied automatic promotion as champions by a brilliant late save from Dundee keeper Kyle Letheren on a day of remarkable drama.

Neither Keatings nor any of his team-mates could see the save since it occurred about 90 miles away at Dens Park, where Dundee were playing Dumbarton. Hamilton, meanwhile, were at home against Greenock Morton, against whom they needed to win by eight goals and hope Dundee dropped points against 
Dumbarton.

Even if Dundee drew, as they nearly did, it seemed impossible for Hamilton to secure the required margin of victory, but they did, beating Morton 10-2 on a crazy afternoon. Keatings was not even required, and stayed on the bench throughout. The Hamilton game finished first and the players listened in to the closing stages at Dens, where Dundee were hanging on to a 2-1 lead.

“We got told before the game we needed eight goals and we needed Dundee to draw,” he recalled. “It was just a freak of nature that it finished 10-2. We were standing on the pitch with two minutes to go in the Dundee game and one of our assistants was listening to the Dundee game and their keeper made a great save to win them the league. After that we were into the play-offs. When did we think a big score was possible? Maybe just after half-time when it was just waves of attack. It was a funny feeling before the game, and during it was weird, just goal after goal. It was a freak day.”

There is the possibility that something similar could unfold on Sunday, when Hibs, who host Queen of the South, need to overturn the three-goal advantage held by Falkirk, with both teams currently locked on 67 points in the race to finish second, and avoid an extra play-off tie.

On Tuesday morning the gap between the team stood at seven goals and three points but Hibs’ 4-0 win over Dumbarton cut the margin.

“The manager didn’t say before the Dumbarton game to go and get goals, he just wanted us to play our natural game,” said Keatings, whose hat-trick put him on 11 goals for the campaign.

Now radios are at the ready to relay the news from the Falkirk Stadium, where Hibs hope Morton prove not as compliant as they were two years ago at Hamilton.

“It’s in Falkirk’s hands,” said Keatings. “But the difference is now down to three [goals] so obviously we can now go out on Sunday and hopefully 
get more goals and see what happens.

“We know we’re playing for something, he added. “It’s second spot and we want it, so it’s down to us to go out this weekend and try and grab as many goals as we can.

“We’ll know what happens at Falkirk,” he added. “There will be fans sitting there with their radios on, listening. It’s about what happens on the day.”

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