After three years in the Championship, Hibs striker Jason Cummings is relishing the chance to prove he is no flat-track bully.
Unless prised from Easter Road by more illustrious suitors over the summer, the 21-year-old will line up in the Premiership for the first time since his team were relegated in May 2014.
Cummings is yet to score in the top flight, despite playing for half of that ill-fated campaign under Terry Butcher. In the intervening period, however, he has notched a whopping 69 goals – including several against top-flight opposition in cup competitions – to send his stock soaring.
Despite his remarkable tally thus far, Cummings is aware that some observers still require convincing that he can score as frequently at an elevated level. “You don’t get the same recognition when you’re in the Championship,” said the striker, who was yesterday announced as one of four nominees for the PFA Championship Player of the Year alongside team-mate John McGinn, Queen of the South talisman Stephen Dobbie and Morton midfielder Ross Forbes.
“There are the critics who say ‘you haven’t done it in the Premiership’ but it doesn’t bother me, I don’t lose sleep over it. The hardest thing to do is score goals whether it’s in non-league football or wherever. Scoring 20-plus goals anywhere is good. I know deep down that scoring 20-odd goals in the Championship is just as good as doing it in the Premiership.
“I’ve played against a lot of Premiership teams over the last few years and there’s honestly not that big a difference. People say it’s this big step up but I believe the top four or five teams in the Championship are all more than capable of getting into the Premiership no problem so I don’t think it’ll be a problem for me or the club. I believe we will surprise a lot of people next season by just how well we do.”
Hibs manager Neil Lennon suggested this week that his team are the second best in Scotland behind Celtic. Cummings believes they can back that up by flourishing in the top flight next season, as city rivals Hearts did after winning promotion two years ago.
“Individually, the players we have got, we are capable of being the second best team in the country, definitely,” said the striker. “We have proved that over the last few years, when we have played a good few Premiership teams in the cups and come through the majority of them. Hearts brought in a few players but still played the same football, did what they did in the Championship and finished third. I think we’ll have no problems in the Premiership.”
Cummings was speaking publicly for the first time since a video of him playfully ambushing professional wrestler Grado in the canteen at Hibs’ training ground last week went viral. “I was surprised how much it took off,” he said. “I knew it was funny and thought I’d get a few laughs off my mates and stuff, but I didn’t expect it to take off that much. My Twitter was the busiest it’s been. I’ve scored five goals against Hearts and my Twitter hasn’t blown up like that. I think I am in the wrong industry!
“No-one believes me but it was genuinely off the cuff. I didn’t even know Grado was coming in. I didn’t train that day and he was out taking penalties with the boys. I’m actually not sure why he was in. Promoting a charity I think.
“Not many of the boys knew who he was. But me and [Dylan] McGeouch are actually big Grado fans. Over the years we have spoken about him and we used to copy his dance and stuff. So we were absolutely star-struck when we saw him. McGeouch told me he was having his lunch, so I said we’ll go in and wrestle him for a laugh and video it.
“There was tape in the changing room so I got all that on – and big Fonts [Liam Fontaine] wrote ‘Cumdog’ on my chest. We got the music on as well.
“When we went in, he was having his soup. He looked round wondering what was going on and I’ve just gone and wrestled him. It was completely off the cuff. It was probably the most random thing ever to happen when you are trying to work.”