The Monday Profile: Kallum Higginbotham
For our profile this week, we welcome back Craig Telfer, author of a deservedly well received post recently identifying those players in Scotland who might attract the attention of NPower League Clubs in the coming months. Craig runs his own blog dedicated to Stenhousemuir FC, Who the hell is Akabusi? and here turns his attention to a former SFL man already plying his trade south of Hadrian’s Wall, but finding opportunities difficult to come by.
These are uncertain times for Huddersfield Town’s new forward Kallum Higginbotham. Once one of the most coveted players in Scottish football, the 22-year-old has found himself on the fringes of the first team of his new club and out of favour with his new manager.
Before joining the Terriers in January, the Salford-born forward was one of Falkirk’s most celebrated players — it was little surprise to see the player joining one of League 1’s most upwardly-mobile clubs; it was something of a shock, however, to see Higginbotham reduced to an afterthought.
Higginbotham began his career at Rochdale, making over 70 appearances for the club in three seasons. During his tenure at Spotland — punctuated by two loan spells with Accrington Stanley — the player operated as a winger and was a regular presence in the side. His magnificent volley from the halfway line against Accrington in a 4-2 victory won Rochdale’s Goal of the Year.
In the summer of 2010, Higginbotham chose to join Falkirk FC after his contract with Rochdale expired. The Bairns, recently relegated from the SPL, were forced to fill their squad with inexpensive youngsters and with his spiky hair and his arms adorned in tattoos, Higginbotham was one of their most eye-catching players. His pace and unpredictability won him many accolades amongst supporters and although he was an infrequent goalscorer, he played an important figure as the club finished in third place.
With a number of players departing the Falkirk Stadium in 2011, Steven Pressley reconfigured Higginbotham from a wide-player into a second striker. Playing off the hulking Moroccan attacker Farid El-Alagui, Higginbotham thrived in his new role. His craft and guile was able to open up stuffy defences and he dovetailed with his new strike partner with aplomb. Although his passing could be a little wayward and he was sometimes culpable of hanging onto the ball for longer than necessary, he was central to Falkirk’s success in the first half of the season. Excellent performances against Rangers and Dundee United drew both Falkirk and Higginbotham acclaim.
The forward became a national concern following Falkirk’s League Cup semi-final clash against Celtic, broadcast live by the BBC. Despite his side ultimately losing 3-1, he assisted Jay Fulton’s equaliser and his Man of the Match performance caught the attention of a host of clubs including Rangers, Ipswich, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield.
The forward opted to join Lee Clark’s Terriers on the final day of the transfer window alongside defender Murray Wallace (Wallace immediately rejoined Falkirk on-loan for the remainder of the season). Huddersfield’s previous dealings with Falkirk had been relatively successful — Clark had signed Scott Arfield in 2010 — and it was widely considered by spectators, both north and south of the border, that the West Yorkshire side had acquired another prodigious player.
Speaking to The Daily Record days after the transfer, Higginbotham said: ‘I heard rumours about the Old Firm but I’d still have gone to Huddersfield because I will have the chance of playing regularly there.’ In hindsight, his optimism seemed entirely misplaced. Under Clark, the forward made a solitary appearance in a 1-1 home draw against MK Dons, where his fine cross set up Jamie McCombe to score the game’s opening goal.
Following Lee Clark’s surprising dismissal in mid-February (surprising to the majority of neutral spectators, that is), Higginbotham was isolated under new manager Simon Grayson and his opportunities were further limited. Other than a 15 minute substitute appearance in a 2-2 draw at Stevenage, the player became a peripheral figure and it came of little surprise when he was given permission to join Barnsley on-loan for the remainder of the season.
‘With the squad numbers we have, it is inevitable some players don’t make the starting line-up or the bench,’ Grayson told Huddersfield’s website of Higginbotham’s loan. ‘That does not mean they are out of favour, but players want to play. It’s not ideal when you are new to a club and want to see what everyone can do.’
Grayson also claimed he was over-subscribed with strikers (‘We are well stocked for strikers at the Club with the likes of Jordan Rhodes, Lee Novak, Alan Lee and Danny Cadamarteri’), but it seemed as though it was a tacit admission he didn’t rate Higginbotham and didn’t really need him.
Since joining Barnsley, Higginbotham has made three unremarkable appearances and has yet to feature as part of a winning side. With the Tykes performing poorly and hovering above the cusp of the Championship’s relegation places, a player with Higginbotham’s qualities — craft and elusiveness, not industry or tenacity — is perhaps unsuited to the rough and tumble of a relegation battle and seems more like the type of player to grace games rather than grab them.
What happens beyond the summer will be interesting. Kallum Higginbotham is certainly a capable player with the skill and ability to succeed in League 1 — it is uncertain, however, if it will be with Simon Grayson’s Huddersfield.
You can follow Craig on Twitter at @craiggtelfer