DURING Rowan Vine’s unproductive seven months as a Hibernian player, he often appeared to be running on empty in the eyes of the club’s supporters.
As he looks to re-energise what has been an itinerant career with a new challenge at Morton, the English striker got off to what could only be described as a false start yesterday.
The Greenock club had invited the media to their impressive Parklea training complex in Port Glasgow for a formal lunchtime unveiling of Vine, who signed for them on transfer deadline day last Friday, his contract with Hibs having been terminated by mutual consent.
But, shortly after the appointed time of 12.30pm had passed, Morton manager Kenny Shiels emerged from the clubhouse to inform the assembled reporters, photographers and camera crew that Vine would not be available to share his thoughts.
An apologetic Shiels had just received a message from his new recruit, explaining that he was still stuck at the other end of the M8, his car having broken down after he put the wrong type of fuel into it.
“I’m not sure if it’s petrol into a diesel car or the other way round,” said Shiels. Despite the embarrassing nature of Vine’s no-show yesterday, Shiels is optimistic the 31-year-old will make his presence felt on the pitch as Morton attempt to salvage their Championship status in the remaining months of the season.
“I think he will bring a little bit more variety to our play, to how we attack,” said Shiels. “People think you need a goalscorer but it’s not necessarily a goalscorer that’s missing all the time, it’s something that might spark us into more creativity and might lend itself to different types of movement up at the top end of the pitch. Rowan can provide that.”
Having enjoyed a solid season at St Johnstone last year, finishing joint top scorer for the Perth club as they finished third in the SPL, Vine arrived at Hibs in the summer amid reasonably high expectations.
But after making his debut in the ill-fated Europa League tie against Malmo, in which Pat Fenlon’s team slumped to a Scottish record 9-0 aggregate defeat, the former Portsmouth, Luton, Birmingham City and QPR player was unable to improve his fortunes with Hibs.
He failed to score in his 14 first-team appearances, just eight of them in the starting line-up, and it quickly became apparent he did not figure in the plans of Terry Butcher when he replaced Fenlon as manager.
Asked whether Vine arrives at Morton with his confidence in need of repair, Shiels remained determinedly upbeat.
“I don’t know – I don’t think so,” he said. “I have to watch how I answer that, because if I say he does, then the headlines will be that Shiels thinks Vine needs to be restored. I don’t want to fall into that trap.
“So what I’m saying is that he is a player of high calibre and I’m confident we can help him in his career pathway, to become as good as he can be.
“It can be a stepping stone for him, it can be anything. He is a very good player and that’s why I have signed him, because I know he can produce the goods for us.
“He is a big personality and we probably need that kind of positive energy and spirit in the dressing room. We want him to provide that as well. We haven’t got too many big personalities at the moment.”
One of those who fits that bill, of course, is former Hibs and Scotland striker Garry O’Connor who joined Morton at the start of January. Vine and O’Connor had a brief previous liaison, playing together twice for Birmingham City back in 2007, and Shiels is looking forward to pairing them once more.
“They have forged a good partnership before, when they played at Birmingham City together,” added Shiels. “I’m confident Rowan can kick-start his career again. He hasn’t had a bad time wherever he’s been. Hibs was just a short period of time.”
Vine is in line to make his Morton debut in their next league game at home to Cowdenbeath on 15 February. It is a crucial fixture for Shiels’ bottom of the table team who are currently nine points behind the Fife club who occupy the relegation play-off place.
With the Championship likely to be a lucrative environment next season, with Rangers and Hearts set to be involved, Morton have given Shiels licence to shake up their squad dramatically in recent weeks as they try to ensure they stay up.
“Morton have won two games out of the last 20, so something had to change,” said Shiels, who has overseen three draws and a win in the last four matches to suggest a revival remains possible.
“We have taken around nine players out of the squad and brought in half a dozen, so it’s been a big transition in playing personnel. We had to do something to change it, because it wasn’t working. The next game is definitely a big one for us.”