Michael Higdon has his eyes on the prize

RECOGNITION has not been easy to come by for Michael Higdon. But patience and perseverance have brought their own reward.
Michael Higdon is the favourite to win the Players'  Player of the Year award and be the SPL's top scorer. Picture: SNSMichael Higdon is the favourite to win the Players'  Player of the Year award and be the SPL's top scorer. Picture: SNS
Michael Higdon is the favourite to win the Players' Player of the Year award and be the SPL's top scorer. Picture: SNS

In a season he will long remember, he is leading the race to finish top goalscorer in the Scottish Premier League and has also been shortlisted for the Players’ Player of the Year award by his fellow professionals.

Drawing a blank in his first six games of the season, he has since rattled in 24 goals in the top flight and sits four goals clear of his main challenger, Leigh Griffiths, with four games of the campaign remaining. It is that clinical eye for goal that has seen bookies install him as favourite to win the award voted for by players throughout the four Scottish professional divisions.

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“It’s great to be honoured like this,” he said. “Obviously you want to do well in your career and, at this moment, this is the best thing that has happened to me. It’s special because it’s voted on by my fellow players. There is nothing better than that.”

But it hasn’t always been easy. Despite his ability to score crucial goals, he has had to win over observers. “You learn from experience and, the type of player I am, I can look quite ordinary if it’s not going well. Sometimes I’m not easy on the eye but, now that I’m getting the supply, I’m there to put it in. The technique to score the more spectacular goals has always been there but when you are confident, it’s easier to do. When you are not confident, you blaze them off target. Hopefully my current run will continue until the end of the season.”

The first goal of the campaign was the most crucial in that respect. In a campaign littered with so many goals, he says that one against St Mirren at the end of August eased any tension.

“To be honest, I’ve felt underappreciated for most of my career,” he added. “But, as long as the manager and players have faith in you, the older and more experienced you get, you stop worrying about that. I take the plaudits when they come. But it’s a lot of hard work coming to fruition.

“I think the Motherwell fans were with me from the start, with the exception of a minority – and I would like to think I’ve won them over. They have been great to me, they have a couple of songs for me now. I can’t complain about that.”

The striker is out of contract in the summer but having broken club scoring records this term, there is a clamour to keep him. It’s not something he is adverse to but football issues not flattery will win him over.

At 29, he is worldly wise enough to know that when it comes to strikers fortunes are fickle. Idolised when the goals are flying in, a barren run always brings stick.

“Yeah, that’s normal,” he said. “Look at big Andy Carroll, he was getting stick off the Liverpool fans. My mates go to the games and give him stick and I was sticking up for Andy Carroll because I was quite similar, I think, and I kept telling them ‘he’ll come good, he’ll come good’.

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“With my body language, sometimes it looks as if I can’t be bothered. I don’t mean to look like that. I don’t know if I’m Marmite – I hope not, I don’t like Marmite but I like me!”

But he says fans are entitled to their opinions, and if players don’t like it, it’s up to them to rebuff the criticism by sticking to their job and winning doubters over. Higdon has done that and more, impressing his manager, the fans and his peers.

“You can’t feel low when the criticism is coming. You know there is a player inside you, sometimes it’s just a struggle to let it out. Look at other players in their career, they reach a stage where the penny actually drops and they start playing the way they should have done when they were younger.”

In his first season with the Fir Park side he netted 14 league goals to help them to a third-place finish. This term he has built on that and he and his team-mates are firm favourites to finish second.

A few more goals would aid that effort and see him become the first non-Old Firm striker to finish top of the scoring charts since Tommy Coyne managed that while at Motherwell in 1994-95.

“When the carrot is there in front of you, you will try to grab it,” Higdon said. “I want to finish top scorer, there’s no doubt about that. If the player of the year award comes with it, that’s a bonus.”

To win both, he will have to fend off the challenge of Hibernian’s Leigh Griffiths – the man he voted for as Player of the Year. While all the other nominees were at Hampden yesterday, the Scotland striker was ­apparently not allowed to attend, his club still shielding him from the media in a move that merely serves as a reminder of the off-field issues which sometimes overshadow his on-field prowess.

“He has been excellent and he is a match-winner,” said Higdon. “He is a good lad as well but he just needs to keep his head down and concentrate on the football. I’m just sorry he is not here.”

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Higdon knows that plaudits are worth cherishing. He has had his struggles but this term the biggest issue is deciding where to continue his career when his contract expires this summer.

“As I said I feel appreciated and I’m at a club where I am playing every week and we have a good team at Motherwell and if we can keep most of the team together then there’s every likelihood that I will stay. But, obviously, the phone rings and there are other things going on so at this moment in time I don’t have an answer.

“You strive to get the best you can but sometimes you get more money but you don’t get to play and I don’t want that. That won’t suit me. I am settled here and even away from the game my family is settled and my child is in school and I don’t want to be uprooting them for the sake of a few bob here or there. It has to be right for me and my family first and foremost and hopefully I make the right decision.”

That can wait, though, until the season is over. For now he has his eyes on the prizes and there are a few of them up for grabs.