WHILE it might seem unusual to many observers, James Keatings’ new role at Hibernian, where he plays in a withdrawn position just behind the strikers, has been a long time in gestation.
Keatings played in midfield when with Celtic at the start of his career. It was a particularly productive time for a young player learning his way in the game. He was able to study how Kris Commons played as an attacking midfielder, finding space behind the strikers, while always looking to score.
Keatings was frustrated in this ambition on Wednesday night. Despite having countless efforts on goal, he found Dundee United keeper Michal Szrmonik in inspired form in their League Cup quarter-final meeting.
Not that it mattered; three of his team-mates had better luck and in-form Hibs sealed a last-four place with goals from David Gray, Jason Cummings and Lewis Stevenson. Now their focus returns to league duty today against St Mirren in Paisley. Keatings is again aiming to add to his to two goals to date this season.
“In the last few games I have been playing in a different role in behind but I am enjoying it,” he said. “The manager [Alan Stubbs] has enough confidence in me to change the position I am playing in. Their keeper had an absolute worldie the other night. He tipped two round the post. But from the position I am in I am getting chances and I’m creating chances too.”
Keatings sees no reason why he can’t continue to plunder goals, despite often playing at the head of a diamond formation in midfield. He recalls the influence Scott Allan had on games when he played against him for Hearts last season. Commons, meanwhile, was another inspiring influence.
“I played centre-midfield when I was at Celtic when I was younger but playing in there [behind the strikers] is a little different,” he said. “It’s really good. I am enjoying it and learning. I saw Scotty Allan in that position last season and he was a joy to watch at times. And I would watch Kris Commons when I was at Celtic. What struck me was just the space they would create for themselves and the chances they created for other people,” he added. “So you are always learning and trying to take things like that into your own game. Kris has shown he can get goals from there as well. He has double figures every single season from that position.
“The manager has watched me drop into that position in training and tried me out there for the last three games.”
Keatings loves life at Hibs after moving from Hearts in the summer, and is relishing playing in a winning team – as he became used to at Tynecastle last season. The win over Rangers last Sunday was Hibs’ fifth on the trot in the league. They have won 11 of their last 12 unbeaten games. Hearts, last season’s champions, won nine of their first ten league games and Keatings ended up scoring 11 times in 33 appearances. Now he hopes to contribute to Hibs’ title success.
“It’s similar,” he said. “The start to the season was different – Hearts got off to a flier and carried it all the way through. But now we are on a great run here and our confidence is high.”