WHEN Jake Hastie burst onto the scene with Motherwell in January 2019, it wasn’t long before he was considered one of Scottish football’s top prospects.

So enamored were Rangers, in fact, that by May they had agreed a transfer for the precocious winger to the tune of £350,000. Three years later, and it’s difficult to imagine Hastie playing regularly for any team in the top two tiers in Scotland.

Hastie was handed a four-year deal at Ibrox in a decision that looks increasingly baffling as time marches on. The winger shone brightly during the run-in in the 2018-19 campaign but had achieved little of note up until then, with a loan spell at Airdrie the previous year and another six-month stint at Alloa the only real exposure to first-team football Hastie had. In 55 games across the two spells, he chipped in with seven goals and 10 assists – a fine contribution, but hardly the sort of form that was making the whole nation sit up and take notice.

That all changed when he returned to Fir Park and was handed his chance by then manager Stephen Robinson, and it was one that was seized with gusto. A run of six goals in nine consecutive Premiership outings between February and April was apparently all it took to persuade Rangers to stump up the cash.

It’s fair to say that Hastie hasn’t exactly delivered on that early promise. The 22-year-old has played a grand total of 11 minutes for the Rangers first team (he came off the bench for a 3-0 win over East Fife in August 2019) and although establishing himself as a regular in the starting XI was always going to be a long shot, green shoots of progress are nowhere to be seen. Loan spells have been arranged to try and kick-start the youngster’s career after years of regression, and not a single one has come close to working out.

At Airdrie during the 2017-18 campaign, Hastie racked up a respectable 2170 minutes over the course of the season. The following year he went one better, playing 3049 minutes between Alloa and Motherwell. In the three years since, he has managed just 1824.

It is a huge problem for Hastie and one that appears to be getting worse. Players need regular football, that much is obvious, yet there is a worrying pattern emerging for Hastie over the last few years. Generally speaking, he tends to get a few starts towards the start of his loan spells but as the season progresses, opportunities become few and far between.

It happened at Rotherham, where Hastie played 1045 minutes in total. He started each of the English League One outfit’s opening eight games before featuring as a bit-part player for the subsequent 16 fixtures before being sent back to Glasgow. At Motherwell last season, Hastie’s minutes played again took a significant dip as he managed just 665. He featured sporadically under Robinson during the first half of the campaign and when Graham Alexander replaced the Northern Irishman in the dugout, Hastie dropped out of the matchday squad, save for the odd appearance here and there.

Hastie had had multiple opportunities in the top flight but hadn’t made the most of any of them, so a loan move to Partick Thistle was arranged during the summer. Playing in the Championship, the thinking went, would allow Hastie to finally receive some much-needed game time and playing in the second tier would allow him to shine.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The Jags have a small squad with just 21 members and are conspicuously short of options at right wing – Hastie’s preferred position – yet the wide player has barely featured at all for the Firhill club. Six appearances might not sound too bad at first until you realise that all have come via the bench, and that Hastie has played a mere 114 minutes this term. Injuries and niggles have played their part, too, but the clear inference is that the 22-year-old’s performances in training haven’t been up to scratch. Kyle Turner, nominally a No.10, has regularly being preferred on the right of Thistle’s midfield.

Hastie’s loan expires in the coming days and the prospect of McCall extending the winger’s stay in Glasgow’s West End looks remote indeed. Quite simply, there is no justification for retaining his services.

It leaves Hastie at a crossroads as he approaches a crucial juncture in his career. If Thistle didn’t work out, it is difficult to envisage another Championship club taking a punt on a player that hasn’t delivered any sort of meaningful contribution in years. Where next, then? League One? League Two?

It is a remarkable nosedive for a player that seemingly had the world at his feet not so long ago. At 22, time is on Hastie’s side and his latest failed loan stint must act as a wake-up call. In 18 months’ time Hastie will be a free agent and without stark improvement, there is no telling just how dramatic the winger’s fall from grace could be.