Father-figure Shefki Kuqi helps Hibs youngsters in bid to fill Leigh Griffiths’ boots

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LEIGH Griffiths has been grabbing the headlines but Hibs are not overly reliant on their top striker, according to one of those champing at the bit to get into the side and prove there are 
others capable of scoring goals.

LEIGH Griffiths has been grabbing the headlines but Hibs are not overly reliant on their top striker, according to one of those champing at the bit to get into the side and prove there are others capable of scoring goals.

“We’re not just a one-man team,” insisted Ross Caldwell, who made his first-team debut last December and is now trying to rack up playing time. “Leigh has done really well and scored lots of good goals, but I have played in his place when he was injured and felt I coped well.”

The 19-year-old is expected to get another chance to prove himself, in Inverness today, with the club’s top striker struggling to shake off a knock sustained in last weekend’s derby win. “We will all get chances but Leigh has been doing well, the same with Eoin Doyle and they are ahead of me, Shefki [Kuqi] and Danny [Handling]. We have no complaints as we want the club to do well.”

That objective has been achieved so far, with Hibs second top, sandwiched between league leaders Celtic and this afternoon’s challengers, who sit just two points behind Pat Fenlon’s men.

Caldwell was given the nod when Griffiths had to exit Sunday’s game prematurely, his manager convinced he would be the best at working the Hearts back four. “That’s why we picked him to come on,” said Fenlon. “The week previously we brought Shefki on and he did a great job for us in relation to defending. We have a few options, we have Ross, we have Shefki, and we have Danny who can come in and play there and they all have different attributes. Ross has come on in the last few games and done quite well for us. He still needs to learn little things and he needs to be a little more astute at times, but he is a very good finisher and a willing worker and for a young player he’s very aggressive.”

The education process is ongoing, with one of the unsung heroes playing a key role in that. While others may have spat the dummy by now, aggrieved that their curriculum vitae wasn’t enough to grant them a place in the starting line-up, Kuqi is happy to be a team player, much to his manager’s delight and the young players’ advantage. “You learn a lot from everyone but Shefki is experienced and helps off the pitch with things that fans do not see,” said Caldwell, who is tapping into the knowledge accrued by the 36-year-old former Finland international throughout his lengthy career. “During wee games in training, Shefki shows you how to use your body to take the ball in better and wee things like that. He takes the likes of myself and Danny aside and is really friendly, he never criticises and he really helps you out. You don’t get that often, especially with all of the experience that he has.”

Fenlon, who is looking for three points today to keep the pressure on Celtic, agreed: “I don’t think I have seen a senior player take younger players under their wing as much as he has. In fairness to Shefki, it’s been difficult for him because we haven’t played him a lot, he’s a senior player, he wants to play and he’s disappointed about that. But, I have to add to that that he’s been first class around the place, his attitude and his application to training and to the younger players has been second to none. “

So, while Griffiths has been bagging the goals, others have been contributing, on the park and educating behind the scenes. “You could get some senior players that haven’t had a lot of game time like he hasn’t – and just not be interested but he hasn’t been like that,” added Fenlon. “He has been really helpful with them. He’s been different class and he knows he has a lot to offer them. Maybe that’s the role he’s going to go down eventually. I think they see him as a bit of a father figure and I said at the start of the season that was the type of player I wanted to bring in, with the type of young players we have at the club, the kind of player who could teach them good habits on and off the park. The reason Shefki is still playing at the level he is, is because of the way he has treated himself down the years and looked after himself and off the pitch he can teach the kids so much that goes unnoticed by supporters and everyone else.”

It’s the results the fans notice, but if they can get another positive one today, without Griffiths, it will illustrate the worth of those grafting in the shadows.

Inverness, meanwhile, are also riding high in the SPL and they have extended a loan spell for 18-year-old Arsenal striker Philip Roberts until the end of the season.

The Republic of Ireland youth international has scored one goal in 12 games for Terry Butcher’s in-form side, who will move second in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League if they are able to beat Hibs today.