By Damien Wilkinson
As we continue to savour the euphoria of City’s recent cup semi final glory, it is a timely reminder of how football emotions quickly change and can unexpectedly transfer from one extreme to the other. In the midst of all the celebrations, Zavon Hines, a key player within that victorious semi final side and the previous cup run, no doubt thought back to his last few years in football, which have contained a good number of ups and downs.
24-year old Hines was born in Jamaica, but grew up in the East End of London and got his start in football with West Ham United. In between a loan spell at Coventry City, for the latter part of the 2007/08 season, he made 22 Premier League appearances for the Hammers, from 2007 to 2011, netting two goals, including a debut strike in a 2008 Carling Cup tie against Macclesfield and, in an early incarnation of being a thorn in the side of Aston Villa, his other goal was an injury time winner in a dramatic 2-1 Premier League victory over Villa in November 2009.
However, despite being West Ham’s young player of the season in 2009/10, Hines was to have both the 2008/09 and 2009/10 campaigns disrupted by lengthy absences due to a knee injury. He eventually had surgery to cure the problem in 2010.
The League Cup has been, and continues to play a key part, in Hines’ career. Hines experienced Carling Cup triumph with West Ham’s remarkable 4-0 quarter final triumph over Man United, which booked a place in the semi-finals of the 2010/11 season’s League Cup. West Ham eventually bowed out 4-3 on aggregate over the two legs to eventual winners Birmingham City. Hines came on as sub in the first leg after 74 minutes, which West Ham won 2-1, and started the second leg, which ended in a 3-1 defeat, after extra time. Both sides, of course, finished that Premier League season relegated.
Given his birthplace, Hines was eligible to play for Jamaica, and he was selected for their friendly match against Nigeria on 11 February 2009 – although he did not play in the match which took place at Millwall’s New Den stadium. Despite this, Hines answered an England under-21 call up later that year, coming on a sub in second half of the 6-3 victory against Macedonia, on 9 October, partnering Andy Carroll and scoring twice at the Ricoh Arena. A venue he was no stranger to following his earlier loan spell at Coventry.
During the close season in 2011 Hines was offered a new contract at West Ham; but he elected to reject this, and found himself signed up by Eddie Howe at Burnley. Given Hines’ age at the time, the deal was reported to have cost Burnley around £250,000 in compensation to West Ham.
His Burnley career never really got going and, after making 13 substitute appearances for the Clarets, Hines made a loan move to Bournemouth in March 2012, to finish the rest of the season there, where it was hoped that he could regain his form by dropping down to League Two. He ended up making eight league appearances for the Cherries, scoring once. After returning to Burnley, the club decided not to take up a second year option on his contract, and Hines was released, somewhat quietly, during July 2012.
Following reports of his desire to find a Championship or League Two club, a trial with Swindon in the early part of August was cut short after two days due to fitness concerns from Paulo Di Canio. A trial with City ensued, and Phil Parkinson eventually secured the services of Hines – his signing announced along with that of Carl McHugh on 18 August 2012. Both players were handed one year contracts, and represented young, hungry players with something to prove, having had experience of higher league football, as Parkinson pieced together his jigsaw for League Two promotion success.
Hines, given squad number 20, was selected for the opening league match of the season away to Gillingham, and replaced Garry Thompson on the right wing, just before the hour mark, in the 3-1 defeat. His full league debut for City followed in the 1-0 home win against Fleetwood, where he made a good positive contribution in the game which essentially kick-started City’s league campaign. He also hit the bar early in the second half, prior to James Hanson’s winner on the hour.
Initial appearances offered good glimpses of his ability, his pace down the wing,in particular impressive, suggesting that he would cause League Two defences problems. However, perhaps inevitably, there was a certain rawness within his play and, given this, there was a feeling that maybe an extended spell in the side would help achieve some consistency.
Hines scored his first City goal in the 1-1 draw with York at Valley Parade in October 2012, a solo goal after a mazy run where he beat three players, coming two minutes after his entrance as a second half substitute. This had followed a disappointing performance in the previous 4-3 defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge, and Phil Parkinson was pleased with Hines’ response after being relegated to the bench.
Hines also rekindled his good association with the League cup, and featured in all the early rounds as City progressed to the quarter finals. His performance against Wigan, when City had their backs to the wall for much of the game and needed an attacking outlet with pace, paid dividends and he almost grabbed a late winner.
An injury to his ankle ligaments, sustained in the FA cup replay penalty shoot-out win over Northampton, side-lined Hines during November and part of December, causing him to miss seven games. He eventually made a playing return coming off the bench in the league match at Southend. This followed an appearance as an unused substitute in the Arsenal cup tie, the team Hines has supported since childhood.
In the Villa semi final ties, and particularly the first leg, Hines’ performance caught the eye and his directness and speed caused the Premier League defence numerous problems. This was especially evident by the extra attention Villa paid to Hines in the second leg, doubling up on him at many times during the game. What was also noticeable was Phil Parkinson’s preference to play Hines as opposed to the now fit-again Kyel Reid, and it will be interesting to see how this selection policy develops over the coming weeks.
Of course, Hines, who is 5’10”, can also operate as a more orthodox striker. Offering City some versatility, particularly given his pace. This was utilised in the Boxing Day victory over Accrington Stanley, and to a lesser extent in the New Year’s day match at Morecambe. So far this has shown mixed success, and Hines only managed a first half appearance in both matches (although the withdrawal in the Accrington match was due to blurred vision), but it does offer Parkinson a different attacking option. Accordingly, Hines’ wing play and ability to operate on either flank will seem to represent his best opportunity for a place in the side for the remainder of this increasingly important and amazing season.
With 25 league and cup appearances so far this season, albeit a number from the bench, Hines has already surpassed all the statistics of his previous seasons. In many ways, Hines development this season epitomises what Phil Parkinson must have had in mind when he built his compact but versatile squad at the start of the season.
Let’s hope Zavon Hines can stay injury-free, substantially add to his total appearances and goals, and continue both his own and City’s resurgence.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus