HIBERNIAN head coach Paul Heckingbottom has urged supporters not write off Steven Whittaker after claiming the Scotland internationalist has reported for pre-season in the shape of his life.
The 35-year-old has struggled to make an impact since returning to his first club in the summer of 2017 and, despite making 51 appearances, has failed to recapture the form which saw him become a pivotal performer for Norwich and Rangers.
Whittaker endured a particularly torrid time with injuries last term, suffering hip damage in Heckingbottom’s first week in the job. He is yet to feature under the Englishman.
That has prompted some fans to question whether Whittaker – in the final year of his deal at Easter Road – is still capable of handling the rigours of Premiership football. However, Heckingbottom is adamant he still has a massive part to play.
“Steven [Whittaker] has come back really fit, really strong,” lauded Heckingbottom. “I doubt there’s been any pre-season when he’s come back in the shape he’s in at the minute.
“I didn’t doubt he would because he’s a really conscientious player.
“We have laid down the challenge – there is a place in the team for him if he comes back and nails it.“Everybody knows that as you get older it doesn’t get any easier. But he looks hungry to get in the team.
“I am hoping we can get him in the side. We didn’t get to work with him enough at the end of last season because he picked up an injury in the first week we were here, but he certainly has the quality to help us out.”