CRAIG PATERSON reckons that if you could grant Hibs supporters just three wishes, they would all come up with the same requests.
While the Hibs hoardes are desperate to see their side end their 110-year Scottish Cup hoodoo – and get their hands on one of the gold-dust briefs for the Hampden clash with Hearts – the radio pundit says next on their list would be the offer of a long-term contract for James McPake. Cup final fever has seen season ticket sales rocket at Easter Road and he believes that even more fans would flock to the Leith ground next season if they knew that stand-in skipper McPake was going to be part of their plans for the future.
The defender has added a real look of solidity to the back four since his arrival on loan from Coventry in January and instils confidence in all who watch him from the stands with his air of assured calmness.
His display in the 4-0 win over Dunfermline on Monday night was one of his best in a green-and-white shirt and Paterson believes that supporters will be keeping their fingers crossed that Rod Petrie and Co move quickly to ensure that they see much more of the 27-year-old next season. He said: “The way that the current financial climate is, clubs are doing everything they can to encourage their supporters to come and watch them again next season.
“As far as I can see, signing guys like James McPake on permanent deals would encourage any Hibs fan to go out and buy a season ticket for next season. You have got to give your supporters something to look forward to.
“If you can get James to stay at the club, it will give fans some enthusiasm for the new campaign. He is someone who has proved he can do a job. It would be a great start if you could announce that you are strengthening the team for the next season, say to people ‘here is the rock and the foundations that we are going to build our team around’.
“When you have got a player that you know fits the bill it is imperative that you keep them at the club. Talking to the fans, if you told them they were only allowed one signing in the summer, I could guarantee that they would want McPake.
“He has been great for Hibs this year. Some players seem to arrive at clubs and fit in perfectly straight away – and he seems to be that type of guy.
“He doesn’t mind getting the ball in the face, whether it hits him in the back, backside or wherever, he would do anything to stop it from going in the net.
“That is what I enjoy seeing. He has this knack of being in the right place at the right time and gets into a position where he can nullify any danger.”
You get the impression that McPake would knock one of his own out cold if it meant preventing the ball from going into the back of the net – and that is exactly the kind of attitude the Hibs players will have to have if they are to snatch the Scottish Cup away from rivals Hearts.
And Paterson can understand why the Hibs supporters have taken to him so quickly: “He just concentrates on doing his job and making it look quite simple in the process. There is a real art to defending in the box. You don’t just stand there, it’s all about positioning and bravery – I mean, James McPake would bump one of his own team-mates out of the way to get to the ball. That’s how committed he is.
“Guys like him become cult heroes in a very short time and I think that has been the case in particular with James McPake because he’s just the type of player that the fans have been desperately waiting for.”
The only obvious down side of McPake’s fine form so far is that other clubs will have been alerted to his availability and Paterson acknowledged: “Nowadays, with two clubs and two sets of agents involved, along with everything else, these things do take time. I am sure that Hibs would love to keep him but they will know that it could take weeks rather than days to come up with a deal that is going to suit everyone.
“Coventry have been relegated so they may have to get rid of players, their bigger earners to cope with the drop financially.
“Having seen how well James has done at Hibs, they might well think to themselves ‘we know this guy can play’ or, alternatively, other teams who will also have been keeping an eye on him.
“That is the big problem with loan signings. If you don’t play regularly then it has been a waste of time but if you do play, and play well, then you’re on the radar for other clubs or become too expensive for the club that you’re on loan to, to keep hold of you. It’s a double-edged sword really.”
Paterson knows McPake will be desperate to take to the field against Inverness this weekend – but wouldn’t be surprised if the defender was wrapped in cotton wool and told to take a seat in the stand instead.
Former defender Paterson now works as a radio pundit and has, therefore, watched McPake in action regularly over the past few months. He has been hugely impressed by the way that the on-loan Coventry player has settled into his new surroundings since joining the Easter Road outfit in January and reckons he will be the linchpin for Pat Fenlon’s side at Hampden a week on Saturday.
The relationship and understanding that he has already built up with defensive partner Paul Hanlon makes it look like they have played alongside one another for years rather than a matter of months and Paterson believes that would be reason enough to make sure that the stand-in skipper doesn’t pick up any knocks ahead of the season’s finale.
Paterson said: “I think you might find this weeked that he will be wrapped in cotton wool and won’t be required against Inverness because it is too important that he is ready for the Cup final next Saturday.
“If anyone at the club is suffering with any kind of niggles, then I think they could find themselves in the same position.
“Hibs have got options if they choose to rest a few of their players, David Stephens, Sean O’Hanlon, David Wotherspoon – they all need games.
“Anyone who is involved against Inverness will obviously be hoping that they might be able to play themselves into contention for the game at Hampden, but I think the manager will have pretty good idea of what his line-up will be.
“Obviously, players always want to be involved and get as much football as they can under their belts but I don‘t think anyone will be chapping his door if they are rested this weekend.”