Slim Jim watching over Hibs kid Scott

IF rising Hibs star Scott Brown ever needs reminding of just how far he still has to travel in pursuit of his career as a professional football player he just needs to take a glance out of his livingroom window.

For there, across the street in Hill O’Beath stands a statue in tribute to Jim Baxter, the most famous citizen of the little Fife village and, arguably, the greatest Scottish player ever.

Brown stepped onto the first rung of the ladder the Rangers legend topped as he came off the bench at Easter Road, a youngster whose name was known only to those die-hard fans who turn up for the club’s under-18 and under-21 matches.

But barely an hour later the 17-year-old was THE topic of conversation in pubs the length and breadth of Easter Road having, along with Derek Riordan, just three years his senior, turned on a scintillating performance which left Aberdeen gasping in their wake.

Today, the Hibs kid revealed the Dons’ players weren’t the only ones left with their heads spinning, he, too, had hardly found time to draw breath as his 60 minutes of fame threatened to pass him by.

Injuries to Tam McManus and then Garry O’Connor saw first Riordan and then Brown pitched into the action, the youngsters confounding everyone who thought Hibs’ chances of winning had all but disappeared with the departure of the Scotland under-21 strikeforce.

But as he stood on the touchline ready to take over from O’Connor, Brown admitted he began "shaking like a leaf."

He said: "I was very nervous when I went on but that soon disappeared when I got involved in the game.

"The boss had told me just to go on and do what I do in the under-18s and 21s and happily it turned out to be a debut to remember - in fact, all that was missing was a goal for myself."

Brown may have missed out on that score, but he could content himself with having a hand in all three of Hibs’ goals, his header from Riordan’s free-kick crashing back off the bar for Mathias Jack to nod home before he teed up his fellow striker for a glory double.

The youngster said: "I’d imagine most fans were probably fearing the worst when Tam and Garry were forced to come off but it worked out brilliantly for Derek and myself. I’d been expecting to play in the under-18 derby against Hearts on Saturday morning but was told the previous day I was in the first-team squad and it was only a few hours before the match I learned I’d be on the bench.

"Even so, I didn’t expect to get anything more than five or ten minutes at the end of the game - if that. It wasn’t great for Tam and Garry that they were injured but it did give Derek and I a chance.

"I actually thought I’d scored with my header which came off the bar, I was about to turn away to celebrate but it was great to have a hand in all three goals. I thought I might also have had a penalty but it was a great win for us regardless.

"I don’t know if the Aberdeen defenders perhaps thought they were only up against a couple of kids but we seemed to surprise them a bit.

"But what did surprise me was the pace of the game, it went from end to end, it’s much, much quicker than the under-18s and 21s.

"In fact, it all went by so quickly I couldn’t believe it when the final whistle went, the hour I was on had just flown by."

Although Brown appears to have come from nowhere he has actually been with Hibs for five years having been snapped up by chief scout John Park and was on the bench for the CIS Cup tie against Rangers earlier in the season.

He said: "This is my first season full-time with the club, I stayed on at school to complete my exams, and I am still eligible to play under-18 football for another year as I don’t turn 18 until June.

"I’ll bet that most of the fans probably hadn’t even heard of me before Saturday but now I have a squad number, my shirt’s No.33, and I’m hoping I might get another chance or two in the first team before the end of the season."

Brown is the latest in a string of young strikers to be brought through the ranks at Easter Road, stretching from Lawrie Reilly, Joe Baker and Colin Stein to the more modern age with Kevin Harper, Kenny Miller and, now, McManus, O’Connor and Riordan.

And as if to remind Brown of where he stands in the current pecking order, there he was at Easter Road yesterday cleaning the boots of McManus and O’Connor along with those of Gary Smith.

He said: "It’s part of my duties as one of the groundstaff to do that but the likes of Tam, Garry and Mixu Paatelainen, along with Derek, have been great to me, we all try to help each other along.

"There’s a terrific atmosphere within the club, we haven’t had the best of headlines over the past couple of weeks but the boys are all good professionals, they’ve ignored what’s been written and said, got their heads down and worked hard for this result."

Brown, of course, is only at the start of what, on the evidence so far, promises to be a successful career if the potential he appears to possess is realised.

But no matter what he achieves in the years to come, he admits he’ll find it difficult to emulate those of Slim Jim.

He said: "The statue to Jim Baxter is right across from my house, I was there when it was unveiled and I see it every day. If I can achieve half of what he did in football then I’ll have had a pretty successful career."