Scott Hogan interview: The Aston Villa loanee seizing a second chance with Birmingham
The 27-year-old striker joined the Blues from cross-city rivals Aston Villa in January and has scored seven goals in his first nine games at St Andrew's
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 13/03/20 12:25pm
Not even the harshest of critics could deny there was no one more deserving of the Championship's Player of the Month award for February than Birmingham's Scott Hogan.
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There's no doubt his six-goal haul in just seven games perhaps swayed the vote in his favour, but it is a highly commendable achievement, given the severe shortage of playing time he'd been afforded during an ill-fated loan spell with Stoke earlier this term.
The gross underachievement of the Potters has been under the spotlight all season long, but the 27-year-old - who joined the Blues on loan in January - was one of the forgotten victims, starting just four league games in a nightmare five-month spell at the Bet365 Stadium.
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"Usually you go out on loan to play games - that's the idea of it - but I just never played regular games; I think I only played two games back-to-back," Hogan said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.
"I drifted out, missed out on squads for whatever reason, I'm not sure. A new manager came in and it still didn't change so I just had to make a decision and thankfully there were teams who were willing to co-operate and I was allowed to get away because it was really frustrating."
In truth, 'frustrating' is probably an apt way to describe the rocky path Hogan has trodden since joining Brentford back in the summer of 2014.
A breakout season with League Two Rochdale in 2013/14 earned him a six-figure move to west London, but just 15 minutes into his league debut, he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, before an innocuous movement on the training pitch saw him, quite unbelievably, sustain the same injury to the same knee less than nine months later.
Obstacle after obstacle was, seemingly, placed in his way, but after prolonged spells of rehabilitation with world-renowned reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles in Philadelphia, he sprung back onto the scene as though he'd never been away, scoring 21 goals in just 32 league outings.
Aston Villa stumped up a reported £12 million for the frontman's services in January 2017, but it's no exaggeration to say that he spent the following two years idling, owing to both injury and a lack of form. "I was guilty of losing my hunger a little bit," he told The Telegraph last August.
In the space of a few short years his once promising outlook had turned bleaker than ever before.
Then came a lifeline, offered by the most unlikely source - Villa's sworn enemies, Birmingham. Hogan had been handed a second chance in the second city, but the fierce rivalry was the last thing on his mind.
He continued: "I'm not from the area so I'm not in with the rivalry as much, but it doesn't matter about the rivalry, it had to be about myself, my decision and this is the one I made. In all fairness, you get the odd little bit of stick but I know a lot of Villa fans and players and they wish me luck every week. The Blues fans have welcomed me really well, too.
"To be honest, I was speaking to my agent and it was difficult because there weren't many clubs after me, just due to the fact that I hadn't played. But, in the end, when Birmingham came in, they guaranteed that, as long as I was fit and doing well, I'd play every game. I'd not had that for about three years. It felt right just to do it for myself, to get back playing again and it's been working well so far."
The 4-4-2 formation currently favoured by Blues boss Pep Clotet is one fans see only fleeting glimpses of in the modern era, but it's one that is operating well at St Andrew's at present, with the 'Big Man, Little Man' combination of Hogan and Lukas Jutkiewicz producing 10 goals across the past eight games.
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For Hogan, though it's an unfamiliar system, it's one that is helping him to hone his sharpness and re-gain his confidence, while rediscovering what he does best: scoring goals. After a miserable return of just 12 in 69 games prior to this season, there's lost time to be made up for.
"I've always wanted to play with a No 10 in behind me and I did at Brentford, though it became more like two No 10s," he said.
"I've not really ever played as a two but since coming to Birmingham, Jukey [Jutkiewicz] has been first class. He's one of the best I've had the pleasure to play with just for what he brings to the table, his work-rate and the willingness to do the dirty side of the game and he has no complaints. I always enjoyed playing as a one but I'll play in any system as long as I can get some goals.
"When I first came in he [Clotet] said to me, 'I want the Brentford Scott Hogan.' He gives me free rein to do what I think is right and he assured me that I'd play every game. Craig Gardner is at the football club as well and he's shepherded me around, looked after me and tells me what I'm doing right.
"He also tells me what I'm not doing well and lads appreciate stuff like that. Craig has been brilliant since I walked through the door and the manager is allowing me to do what I want to do. As long as I'm scoring goals, I'm sure he's happy to keep allowing me to do that.
"I'm 27 now and I should be coming into my peak. I've done well so far at Birmingham but I still think I'm not quite where I need to be and where I expect myself to be. I've got to keep playing regularly and get sharper as the games go on. I'm looking to kick on again from the level that I'm at and obviously I want to surpass the level I was at Brentford.
"I'm just trying to keep my head down, work hard and just keep playing the games because then everything about my game will tidy up and the sharpness will come back, the pace will come back and I won't feel as fatigued during games due to not playing. The more times I play it's only going to help me to where I want to be and where I know I can get to."
Once Hogan's loan spell at St Andrew's concludes at the end of this season, there will be just 12 months remaining on the four-and-a-half-year deal he signed at Villa in early 2017. Where his future lies beyond this season is, by all accounts, anyone's guess.
Having coped with the rigours of the Championship and proven himself to be a lethal marksman, common sense would suggest remaining at this level for the time being, particularly with the amount of playing time he has missed out on over the past three years.
But having spent the best part of four months on loan at Sheffield United as they achieved automatic promotion alongside Norwich, the striker has, naturally, developed a hunger to replicate that unbeatable feeling of euphoria.
"It was inevitable they were going up because you could just feel it in the atmosphere around the city, the stadium, the training ground every day," he said.
"It is one of the best feelings you can get in football. I wish all lads could experience it because it's one you don't forget. They [Sheffield United] are reaping the rewards of that now in the Premier League. It's fantastic to be around and I want that every season, otherwise I wouldn't be playing football."