Nick Montgomery expressed “pride” in Jair Tavares over the way the Portuguese winger has seized his second chance at Hibernian after being frozen out under previous boss Lee Johnson.
The 22-year-old spoke this week of the “mental devastation” he endured over his lack of game time following his move to the cinch Premiership club from Benfica in the summer of 2022.
Tavares made just nine appearances for Johnson last term and featured only twice this calendar year – both times as a late sub – before the Englishman was sacked in late August.
However, the winger has enjoyed a remarkable resurgence since Montgomery’s appointment in September, featuring in nine of the current manager’s 11 games in charge and starting each of the last five.
“Jair is a great example of a young player moving to a club and things not going as planned,” said Montgomery. “No doubt he’s had some tough times but the first thing I said to him when I came in was ‘you have to forget the past, you can’t have a victim mentality because if you do, it’s really hard to pick yourself up’.
“I think he’s been growing week by week with his confidence and I’ve been really proud of Jair.
“I think now people are really starting to see the ability he has. He’s a real team player, he’s working his socks off, and he’s been outstanding ever since he came back into the team.
“He’s a great story for any player, young or old, who is thinking their career at a club is finished. A change of manager or whatever it may be, and all of a sudden you get an opportunity and you have to grab it with both hands. I think he’s done that.”
Tavares had not kicked a competitive ball this term before Montgomery put him on as a sub in his first game in charge away to Kilmarnock. Asked why he felt compelled to give the winger a chance, the manager said: “I came in with an open mind to see what the players did in training, knowing their situations before I came in but not having any bias over that.
“Jair’s effort in training has always been very good. I think it was clear at the start he was lacking a bit of confidence and belief and a clear instruction of what was needed from him in the team.
“But he’s really receptive, an intelligent footballer and a real hard worker, and I think you can see he’s getting better all the time.
“I think he’s got a lot more to come. He’s got a lot to improve on but when you don’t play for a long time, sometimes it takes a couple of games to get that game awareness and full confidence. Right now he’s on an upward trajectory and we all hope that continues.”
Hibs head to Dundee on Sunday looking to leapfrog their hosts and climb into the top six after an inconsistent start to the season. Asked about his plans for the January transfer window, Montgomery said: “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We are always on the lookout for potential future Hibs players, whether that’s in January or the summer.
“That’s something we monitor on a weekly basis. Right now, I’ve no idea what’s going to happen over December. We’ve got a couple of players coming back from injury and we’re hoping in January-February we’ll have a few more back in full training, Chris Cadden, Harry McKirdy and Jake Doyle-Hayes, so we have got players on the horizon coming back to full fitness.
“They will be like new signings if we can get them back on the park.”