Dark days of Butcher era pass for Alex Harris

Alex Harris, left, has regained his fitness and forced his way into new manager Alan Stubbs' plans.  Picture: Ian Georgeson
Alex Harris, left, has regained his fitness and forced his way into new manager Alan Stubbs' plans. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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RUSHED back into action, compared to England internationalist Theo Walcott and then dropped and told publicly he may not return to Hibernian’s first team until this season, all in the space of a few weeks, it is no wonder Alex Harris confesses to confusion over the way previous manager Terry Butcher handled his comeback from injury earlier this year.

Strange is the word repeatedly used by the teenager as he sums up his bafflement over a turbulent spell for him personally, and for the club in general. Too mild-mannered and savvy to explicitly put the boot into Butcher, the winger’s words speak for themselves when the subject of his unsettling second half to last season is broached.

Chosen as the poster boy for the club’s away strip launch last summer, the campaign began in disastrous fashion for Harris when in August he suffered a broken ankle that required surgery and kept him sidelined for five months. When he did come back, he admits he did not feel ready and, consequently, his form suffered.

Then came the Walcott comparison he admits he found strange, especially given it came after just ten minutes of his return against Aberdeen in January. Within a matter of weeks, the head-scratching continued when Harris was told publicly his confidence and lack of fitness merited a prolonged spell out of the first-team limelight in the club’s under-20s to prepare him for a return to form this term.

Again, the topsy-turvy treatment persisted, as just days later he was making a substitute appearance in the heat of an Edinburgh derby against Hearts in March. That sparked a return to the starting line-up that ended in the ignominy of being a substituted substitute as Hibs slipped calamitously from the Premiership with May’s dismal play-off defeat by Hamilton.

Given such a bewildering backdrop, there was every chance Harris may have been dreading pre-season training this summer. However, the decision to replace Butcher with Alan Stubbs has breathed new life into the Scotland under-19 cap and he is keen to move on from a seemingly chaotic phase in his fledgling career. “I am definitely feeling much better, I feel that I am back to myself,” he said ahead of this afternoon’s meeting with Falkirk. “I’ve not really hit the form that I showed when I burst onto the scene but I am getting better every game.

“I made my comeback off the bench (against Aberdeen) and in the game after that I came on after about ten minutes against St Mirren. I was a wee bit wary. I was then in and out of the team. I was playing in the under-20s and then on the bench at the weekend and I wasn’t really sure what I was doing.

“I have spoken to the new manager and he has big plans for me and I know that if I keep doing well I have a future here at this club. I am enjoying playing each week and I am enjoying being in the team, and I just want to keep the run of games going.

“The Theo Walcott comparison last season was obviously a bit strange. I was still trying to play and still going out and giving my best, but it was a bit strange. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing every week. I needed to make sure I was performing well, but it was a bit strange.”

Although regaining his confidence with every outing, the sight of today’s opponents Falkirk will surely only inspire Harris further.

Virtually still an unknown then, the lightning-quick forward had only played seven times for his boyhood idols when he burst to prominence with an eye-catching display against the Bairns in April last year.

His stunning strike six minutes after the interval in the teams’ Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden helped spark the capital outfit to a remarkable comeback from 3-0 down, eventually securing a 4-3 victory with Leigh Griffiths’ incredible extra-time clincher. Although Griffiths was named man of the match the now Celtic player passed on his champagne prize to Harris in recognition of the part played by the youngster in a thrilling match.

With last season’s confusion a mitigating factor, Harris is quick to confess himself that he has never quite hit the heights he reached that day. But, with Stubbs contributing to his burgeoning belief, he is convinced he is not far away from recapturing that form.

“That goal is a great memory for me,” he added. “It was my first and so far only goal for Hibs. That was the day that I showed everybody what I could do.

“I have probably not reached that standard since then but I definitely feel I can still get to that. I know there is much more in my locker and I’m just looking to improve in every game.”