Delight for Hibs boss as top-rated young stars sign new deals

HIBS today revealed a second of the Easter Road club's most promising young stars has signed a new two-year contract.

Hard on the heels of Scott Smith clinching a deal tying him to the club until the summer of 2012, midfielder Scott Taggart has agreed a similar extension.

Both Taggart and Smith were part of the Hibs Under-19 squad which clinched a historic League and Cup double the season before last alongside David Wotherspoon who established himself as a regular in the SPL in his first year with boss John Hughes' squad.

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Now the 18-year-olds have set their sights on following in the footsteps of Wotherspoon, proving once again that the Easter Road outfit's formidable youth system continues to produce some of the best young talent in the country.

Taggart, who can also operate in defence, forced his way onto the bench on a number of occasions towards the end of last season without actually making it onto the pitch, earning himself the club's Academy Player of the Year accolade. The Glasgow-born youngster said: "It's brilliant that I will be here for the next few years. I'm just keeping my head down and working hard. Having been around the first team training over the past year, it's definitely where I want to be.

"I was involved in a few squads towards the end of last season and the gaffer is encouraging me to kick on and push for a place on a regular basis like David did last year."

Smith, who represented Scotland during last month's European Under-19 qualifying matches in Croatia, has set himself a similar goal even although he is still eligible to play at youth level for another season yet.

He said: "I have one ambition at the moment, to get into the first team.

"I'm going to keep working hard and will try to catch the gaffer's eye. I really want to make an impression and get into the first team."

Hughes has no doubts that with the right attitude, determination and commitment to hard work that the pair have a chance of emulating Wotherspoon's achievement. He said: "The Academy continues to produce the homegrown talent this club is famous for. As I have said to all the young players trying to burst through, the door is wide open to come on and prove they have what it takes to be a first team regular.

"I want players like the two Scotts to try and knock the current regulars off their pedestals. This is their chance, they need to act like men, learn fast and take the opportunity when it comes their way.

"They are players' players with a lot of potential and we need the likes of them to be pushing towards the first XI, that's how the whole standard of the club will progress.

"I want the young boys to come through and challenge."

If Taggart and Smith can make the breakthrough they will become the latest members of that exceptional Under-19 squad to have made the big time, Paul Hanlon, Scotland's Under-21 captain, having been part of that group before stepping up to the first team aged just 17.

And Republic of Ireland striker Kurtis Byrne, scorer of the dramatic late goals which clinched the double, has also had a taste of first-team action and will be anxious to strengthen his claim for a regular place this coming season.