Paul Heckingbottom relishing the return of Ryan Gauld – after revealing that Sporting loan star is all Hibs fans want to talk about


PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM insists he is relishing the opportunity to finally field promising playmaker Ryan Gauld – after being bombarded by questions about him by Hibs fans.

The 23-year-old joined the capital club on loan from Sporting in January but has been limited to just five outings after being sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in February.

However, Gauld found the net for Hibs’ development squad against their Ross County counter-parts on Monday, emerging unscathed from the contest.

And Heckingbottom has confirmed that he could be involved against Livingston on Friday night.

Although the Englishman knew little about the ex-Scotland under-21 starlet prior to joining Hibs, he has been afforded an insight into the expectation surrounding Gauld any time he has bumped into the Easter Road faithful.

Heckingbottom smiled: “I wasn’t aware of Ryan before coming to Hibs but what I have noticed is that whenever I’m at a development game or out in town I have been asked: ‘How’s Ryan? When will he be back fit?

“Lots of people have been asking about him. He is a player who everybody wants to know about because of his move [to Portugal] and the interest in that.

“I’ve watched all his games for Hibs on video and we had a chat when he was injured. So he knows where we see him fitting in and what is expected of him within the team. Ryan has been working on that already.

“We’re looking forward to having him back involved and up to speed so we know can make a positive impact on the pitch.”

And Heckingbottom has nothing but admiration for Gauld’s decision to join the Portuguese giants as a teenager, emphasising that his progress should not be measured simply on the modest number of games he has played for Sporting.

He added: “It’s a small world now and I would encourage everyone to have a go for the life experience. They have a life to live and experience and they’ll be better people for it.

“People will always judge if Portugal was the right move from a football standpoint and the amount of game-time and goals scored. But sometimes that’s not what it’s all about. He’s experiencing something I never got the chance to do as a player and he’ll be better for it.”

Meanwhile, Heckingbottom has revealed that Livingston boss Gary Holt promised to deliver a crash course in ‘real fitba’ as the former teammates prepare to do battle in West Lothian.

The Hibs head coach played alongside Holt at Norwich City during the 2002/03 campaign, even living close to the ‘cheeky’ Scotland internationalist in East Anglia.

Heckingbottom lauded the team spirit fostered within that Canaries dressing room and, although he departed after just one season, he remained firm friends with Holt and the pair have continued to meet up regularly and exchange texts.

“When I came up he sent me a message saying: ‘Now you’re going to experience some real fitba!’ smiled Heckingbottom. “He’s a cheeky so and so. I was wondering what he was on about so we’ll wait and see.

“We lived round the corner from each other when we were at Norwich and the one thing we did have down there was a good team spirit. It was a good group and we had good times down there.

“We have kept in touch, whether it has been phone calls, bumping into each other at games or text messages between jobs. So, I have always been aware of what he has been doing and I’m really happy to see him doing so well.”