BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibernian striker James Keatings reckons Jason Cummings is “running scared” as the battle between Easter Road’s prolific pranksters escalates.
However, those Hibee hi-jinx pale in significance compared to the fight for a place in Neil Lennon’s starting line-up this season. And neither contest is one Keatings is willing to lose.
As self-confessed jokers in the Easter Road pack, the irascible duo have given fans a glimpse into their rivalry, with an Instagram video of Keatings leaping from nowhere to terrify his close pal racking up more than 10,000 views.
But Cummings got his revenge as Hibs’ charter flight landed in Copenhagen last Wednesday, pouring a bottle of water over the head of nervous flyer Keatings.
“Jason is winning 2-1 at the moment, so he says,” notes the 24-year-old with a smile.
It is a fascinating dynamic, as it is likely these two close friends will fight for one remaining place in the Hibs starting attack this season, given Grant Holt brings entirely different qualities to the side and was a marquee signing of manager Neil Lennon.
“We are really close and that spark is always there,” continued Keatings. “We are the jokers in the dressing room and the ones to watch out for, we’ll keep the rest of the boys on their toes . . . but I’m coming for him.
“He says he’s winning after the stunt on the plane – but I can’t let it finish at that. There’s no way he is getting the win. He’s been running scared, saying ‘sorry, sorry’ so he knows the revenge is coming.
“He got me with the water on the plane. I’m not a good flyer and we were landing in Copenhagen. I was trying to relax myself and stay calm, then he pours a bottle of water over my head from behind – that didn’t help. Fair play, it was a good one. But I’ll be back.”
Despite his mischievous exterior, it would be foolish to underestimate Keatings’ determination to make his mark for Hibs this season, even at the expense of a friend.
Keatings was a substitute in both legs of their Europa League exit against Brøndby, but staked his claim with a fine performance and the winning goal in Sunday’s 1-0 triumph over Birmingham City.
“I’d never want Jason to do badly,” he continued. “I want him to go out there and be brilliant and get goals for the team. But we both play in the same position and we are fighting hard for it.
“I know what Jason is capable of – he will score goals week-in, week-out – so I need to live up to that and set my standards that high. That competition is there and we will push each other hard in training every day to try and get in the team. That will make us both better.
“In the Europa League games I was sitting on the bench and that is not the place I want to be. I had an opportunity to go out on Saturday and show the manager what I can do and thankfully I put in a good performance.”
Entering the last year of his contract with the Hibees, Keatings, who scored 12 goals last term, confirmed that he would love to win an extended deal with the club, should he become a regular under his former Celtic boss Lennon.
He added: “It’s difficult watching massive games from the bench. I went through a period last season when I was on the sidelines and it’s not a nice feeling. This is the last year of my contract and I need to be playing, scoring goals and showing people what I can do.
“I’m fighting for a new contract here, I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a great bunch of lads and this is a massive year for me to show what I can do for this club.”