While James Collins knows he has endured a slow start to his Hibernian career, Terry Butcher is more than happy with the hard-working striker.
The manager’s only frustration is that Collins is not more like Billy Whizz, the cartoon character from the Beano who was fast enough to get on the end of his own crosses. Butcher has already compared Collins to another Billy – the Inverness Caledonian Thistle striker – McKay. The player himself says he doesn’t mind this one bit, even though it helps ratchet up the pressure.
McKay has struck 15 times this season already, while Collins has only three goals to his name. But the Hibs player is clearly hopeful that Butcher’s alchemy can work on him as well.
“Billy is obviously flying and is doing well,” said Collins, 23. “He also did well last season and he is showing it again this season. If I am doing as half as well as he is doing up there then I will be a happy man.
“If the gaffer can get out of me what he got out of Billy then we won’t be going far wrong,” he added.
Butcher is working on it. He can already see a difference in the player’s performances as his confidence gradually improves. Collins scored two goals in 12 appearances under Fenlon, who signed him for £200,000 in the summer. Under Butcher, he has scored once in four games after taking over as first-choice striker in the absence of the injured Paul Heffernan. The manager also wants Collins to continue his good work outside the box – and therein lies the problem.
“I can see a difference in him from when he first came, but that is because we are playing a way that probably suits him better, no disrespect to what has gone on before,” said Butcher, when asked about Collins, who has provided glimpses of the form that convinced Fenlon to spend £200,000 on bringing the player to Edinburgh from Swindon Town.
“The way we play is we like to get the ball forward,” added Butcher. “When we were at Inverness, we liked Billy Mackay to work hard – not just to score goals, but also his work outside the box is tremendous. And James will do that too – he is an honest boy. He works his socks off.
“You think sometimes he has three lungs instead of two because he covers that much ground,” continued Butcher. “He is very effective. The unfortunate thing is we want him to be in the middle when he crosses the ball, which is physically impossible unless you are Billy Whizz.”
Collins might not leave a vapour trail behind him when he runs but there is more to his game than he has shown so far. “There is definitely more to come from me – there is more to come from everyone,” he said.
“I don’t think we are halfway there yet, so hopefully there are more goals and better performances to come. I thrive on playing well and scoring goals.
“If you are playing well, are working hard and the gaffer is backing you then there is no reason to go out there full of confidence. Scoring gives you that belief and confidence.”
The new start with Butcher has perhaps helped cleanse his mind. Rather than using the start of the season as a reference point when assessing his worth to the team, the departure of Fenlon has allowed him the chance to start again. Everyone is being given a fresh slate. But Collins is aware that he now needs to start doing what he was bought to do.
“I like to score goals but you can’t score every week,” he noted. “When I first came up here, it was playing on my mind a bit. But now I have a fresh mind and I want to do well for the team.
“With the injury to Paul Heffernan, it has given me a chance to show the new gaffer and Mo what I can do. They have filled me with confidence and have told me they want me to go out there, get on the end of crosses, score goals and work hard for the team. I like to think I have done that. They have showed faith in me and kept me playing.”
Hibs have a chance to take a step nearer the top six when they entertain St Johnstone this weekend. Collins scored a late equaliser against Partick Thistle on his last appearance at Easter Road a fortnight ago, and also netted the winner over the Saints in the last meeting between the teams at McDiarmid Park.
“It [the goal v St Johnstone] was the winner which was quite important but scoring at Easter Road is always a privilege,” said Collins, whose only other goal came at home in the 2-0 win over St Mirren in September.