The winter break in Scotland during January was used in many different ways by our top clubs. Most went to sunnier climes to revitalise the players and refresh them, ready for the second part of the season. Some stayed here in Scotland in the cold and worked away as normal. It has certainly worked out well for one club in particular.

I don’t think when Motherwell arrived back in Lanarkshire from their mid-season break in Tenerife they could have envisaged going on to win six league games on the spin. It’s been an astonishing run of form that has propelled a club flirting with relegation and in turn a manager in Stephen Robinson, who was coming under increasing pressure from the Motherwell punters, to potential top-six candidates.

It’s been an incredible turnaround for the Fir Park club and they have done it in part by pitching in some very talented young players which has given the whole squad and club a real surge of energy. The one player everyone is talking about just now is Jake Hastie. Five goals in just six appearances for Motherwell since he returned from the club on loan from Championship side Alloa has catapulted him to major prominence in Scottish football. It was clear that Robinson didn’t think he was ready at the start of the season and very wisely put him out on loan to Alloa Athletic. I have no doubt that if you asked Hastie right now he will say that the loan spell at the Wasps in the first part of this season has been the making of him and toughened him mentally and physically to the demands of being a Premiership footballer.

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When I was a similar age to Hastie and at Hibs my then gaffer Alex McLeish sent me out on loan to East Fife. It was a well-trodden path for most Hibs youngsters at the time. We all headed out to part-time clubs in the lower leagues to learn our trade. Kenny Miller the season before me went out to Stenhousemuir and came back a totally different player. He went straight into the first team at Hibs and well the rest is history. I can remember going into my very first training session at East Fife on a Tuesday night and seeing the players coming in covered in mud or cement from digging roads or doing brickwork. Then going out and working their nuts off in training. It was inspiring stuff and a real eye opener. On a Saturday that £75 win bonus was massive for the players. It either paid a bill or was their beer tokens for a Saturday night. If you weren’t doing the business you were soon told and that hardened me as a player as it would any young boy. Playing with and against these guys not only really made appreciate what I had at Hibs but also physically you had to be strong and stand up to the challenge or you would be pushed aside like a wee boy. You knew that if you went out on loan to a lower league side and couldn’t get a game then you had no chance at your parent club at a higher level. That also added to the pressure to do well and not to mess about or act the big shot.

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When I came back from that loan spell I went straight into the first team. Alex McLeish could see a huge difference in me and he then trusted me enough to stick me in. I am absolutely certain that Robinson was the same when Hastie came back from Alloa. He saw the change and gave him the opportunity which he has grabbed with both hands. Hastie looks like such an exciting footballer and has a wonderful left foot. Two superb goals v St Mirren and Hearts will have some Motherwell fans already comparing him to club legend James McFadden but it’s early days. He needs to sign his new contract at Motherwell then most importantly stay humble and hungry. If he does then the sky is the limit for him. It’s just fantastic to see another young Scottish lad coming through who has earned his chance and is looking the business.

That’s why I would urge any young player at 18 or 19 and on the periphery of things at their clubs to go out on loan and play competitive games. The revamped reserve league unfortunately has turned out to be much the same in all but name to the much maligned Under 20 league. Get in and bang on the managers door and say instead of playing in the reserve league you want to go out on loan and learn the game. Young players playing against other young guys in the reserve league will be learning very little. They have came up against the same boys from probably U12 level. The intensity and demands are nothing compared to real Senior league football. For the mercurial Hastie it has worked a treat. Let’s hope more go out and learn their trade the same way.