HIBS kid Steven Whittaker today revealed he’s set his sights on claiming the right-back position as his own over the coming season.
The 20-year-old found himself used in a variety of positions as he established himself as a regular member of Bobby Williamson’s first-team squad last season.
But now, after a chat with new boss Tony Mowbray, Whittaker believes playing on the right side of Hibs’ back four will prove to be his best position.
He said: "Last season I found myself playing at right-back, left-back and on both sides of midfield as I filled in for injured players.
"As a young player you are grateful just to be involved with the first-team but it was difficult for me with all the chopping and changing.
"I’d enjoyed the games I’d played at right-back under Bobby Williamson and during a one-to-one chat with the gaffer he asked me where I would like to play.
"I told him right-back or the right side of midfield where I felt much more comfortable rather than on the left flank.
"The gaffer has given me the chance to play there in a few pre-season matches. I feel I have done all right and I think he’s quite happy with the way I have played.
"Hopefully I can now go on to make the right-back position my own. It’s a position I enjoy and the gaffer likes his full-backs to get forward and put crosses into the penalty area. We have two good centre-halves so the full-backs don’t have to be scared of getting forward, they can do so knowing the cover is in place."
Whittaker faced his stiffest test so far in his quest to claim the right-back spot as Hibs faced Cardiff City at the weekend, the Welsh side boasting the English First Division’s top scorer Robbie Earnshaw in their ranks.
Earnshaw, who scored 26 goals last season and took his international tally to seven in 13 games with a hat-trick for Wales against Scotland, didn’t disappoint as he latched on to a loose pass in midfield before beating Hibs keeper Simon Brown with a terrific shot from 25 yards.
By that point, however, Hibs had the game won with goals from Tam McManus and Stephen Dobbie although Whittaker admitted the outcome could have been different but for an atypical finish from Earnshaw after the Easter Road youngster was woefully short with a pass-back intended for his goalkeeper. Earnshaw was left with only Brown to beat but, to Whittaker’s relief, his shot scraped over the bar.
Whittaker said: "My heart sank when I saw the ball go to Earnshaw. It was a bit of lack of concentration on my part and I didn’t get a good connection. I tried to chase Earnshaw but couldn’t quite get back to him. You expect him to score in that situation but I was delighted to see him miss.
"We were only leading by the one goal at that point and had he scored there might have been a different outcome to the game but, in the end, it was a good win for us."
While happy to admit he had erred, Whittaker insisted his mistake came from trying to retain possession. He said: "There was nothing on for me going forward so I was trying to get the ball back to Simon so we could build again from the back.
"I could have put my foot through the ball but we don’t want to just be hoofing the ball everywhere. We want to keep possession and play football.
"Simon told me afterwards he thought the pass I was intending to play was the right one, it just wasn’t properly executed.
"But I think the manager was reasonably happy with our performance. I thought we played really well for the first 30 minutes, Cardiff came into it a bit and then we finished the half well again.
"The second half wasn’t as good but we defended quite solidly and some of the football we played going forward was quite good.
"I think the fans will enjoy the passing game we are hoping to play. Okay, there might have been one or two passes going astray but we’re working hard in training and as we get more games under our belts, I’m sure it will get better and better.
"We certainly have midfield players who can pass the ball; Grant Brebner, Stephen Glass and now Guillaume Beuzelin. Kevin Thomson has still to come back into the side and there are plenty of others so we are looking very much like a football team.
"Free-flowing, passing football is the style of football traditionally associated with Hibs so hopefully the fans will see us build from the back and play some exciting football.
"It was good to see the sort of football we played rewarded with two good goals. The first was a superb move down the left and the second a great wee ball from Grant for Stephen to finish."
A host of former Hibs players will kick off Salvesen Boys’ Club annual tournament this weekend, by facing the club’s under-21 side on Friday evening.
Paul Kane will be bringing along a number of ex-Easter Road stars including Darren Jackson, Gordon Rae, Alan Sneddon, Gordon Hunter and Eddie May for the match at Forresters School playing field (kick-off 7.30pm) and on an adjacent pitch at the same time, Hibs’ under-17 side will play their Salvesen counterparts. Entry for both matches is free.