Fit-again Thornhill admits he’s unlikely to replace any of Hibs’ Parkhead performers

Matt Thornhill
Matt Thornhill
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“IF it was up to me I wouldn’t drop any of them.”

You would expect a player so blighted by injury in recent months to be desperate to return to the fold, pushing rival team mates for his position to one side just to savour match action once more.

Make no mistake, comeback man Matt Thornhill is as hungry as ever to get back to playing. However, the Hibs midfielder is a team player, and that means his diplomacy comes to the fore when asked how he will fit back into an Easter Road midfield that shone against Celtic on Saturday.

“The boys in midfield played really well at the weekend,” he continued. “They were outstanding. In the next few weeks, I’d love to get back in the team and have a good run of games. I had the first five games of this season and it’s been frustrating not to kick on from there.”

Thornhill, who turned 23 three weeks ago, missed the end of last season with a knee injury and was desperate to kick on where he left off in the current campaign. After establishing himself as a first pick in his favoured central role under Colin Calderwood, a groin injury sustained just five games into the season put on hold the Englishman’s mission to show Hibs fans exactly what he is made of. That mission, which originally began when Thornhill arrived north from Calderwood’s former employers Nottingham Forest in January, got back under way against Celtic, when the attacking midfielder played for the closing quarter of an hour, and he hopes to play some part at home to Dunfermline this weekend.

“I’ll probably be on the bench on Saturday, but I’m keen to show the fans what I can do,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition going on at the minute, all the boys know that. I have to show I can work as hard as them. The gaffer has had me at a previous club so he knows what I can do. But he’s been here a while and knows the other players as well as me.”

Being back on the pitch among his team mates is certainly preferable to spending his days in the company of Callum Rea, the club physiotherapist who has helped nurse Thornhill back to full fitness – not that Rea should take it personally that the Hibs No. 15 is delighted to have escaped his clutches.

“There’s nothing wrong with the physio, but it was frustrating,” said Thornhill. “You come in every day, get your treatment, do your rehab – it’s something I don’t want to do. It was quite depressing coming in every day knowing I wasn’t going to play football. It’s been a nightmare in the physio room since I’ve been here, but it was nice to get the last 15 minutes on Saturday.”

Thornhill admits that the physical approach adopted by teams in the SPL is a wholly different attitude to that which he became used to in the Championship with ex-club Forest. Despite having suffered multiple injuries in recent months, he insists it’s only coincidence that the only bodily breakdowns he has ever suffered in his career have come north of the Border.

“The type of football is a bit more aggressive up here and it’s a bit colder, so hopefully I can adapt to that,” he said. “At Forest I wasn’t injured at all. When I came here, I injured my ankle. Then I injured my knee at the end of last season. You just have to get over it, keep going, and work hard. It has been tough playing teams up here, tougher than I thought. The style of play is different to down south but I wouldn’t say that influenced my injuries.”

Having completed a fortnight-long stint of full training at East Mains, Thornhill admits that, while he would play anywhere and alongside anyone just to return to playing, he would relish the opportunity to team up in central midfield with ex-Nottingham Forest team-mate Isaiah Osbourne. Thornhill played in midfield beside Osbourne during the ex-Aston Villa player’s end-of-season three-month loan spell at the City Ground in 2008-09 and feels his style of play is compatible to that of his fellow Englishman.

With form such as Osbourne showed against Celtic, Thornhill would not be surprised to see his old friend linked with a move back to the English Premiership. “I played with Isaiah at Forest – he’s more of a defensive player who likes to get on the ball, and I’d like to play with him because obviously I’m a more attacking midfielder. It really depends on the formation the gaffer decides to play.

“When Isaiah came here he didn’t have the fitness, but he has adapted well and has become stronger and stronger. He was magnificent on Saturday against Celtic, always looking to get on the ball and drive us forward. He’s got Premiership experience and hopefully he can bring that to Scotland. I think he’s adapted well, and if he goes the way he’s been playing, you never know what you could happen.”

In a practice game against Rangers yesterday, Thornhill witnessed another promising talent among Hibs’ burgeoning roster of midfielders. Sean Welsh, 21, has caught the eye of Thornhill with recent displays that have moved him to the fringes of the first team.

“Obviously Sean hasn’t been the luckiest player in the last two years with injury, but he has come back very strong,” said Thornhill. “He was good against Rangers, looked sharp and hardly gave the ball away, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got his debut soon. He can play in centre midfield and right back, which is a bonus.”

Welsh, as well as fellow youth team graduate Scott Taggart and more senior players Akpo Sodje and Junior Agogo, are neighbours of Thornhill in the immediate vicinity of Easter Road. When he has no training or matches for which to report, Thornhill spends much of his spare time with his team mates playing FIFA on the X-Box.

It is a convenient escape, especially for a player out crocked, but an injury-free Thornhill is determined to play out his actions in the flesh from now on.