Hibs winger Alex Harris is set to step up his bid for full match fitness by playing for the Under-20s this Wednesday.
After five months on the sidelines with a broken right ankle, the 19-year-old made his return as a late substitute in last week’s defeat to Aberdeen at Pittodrie and was expected to build on that brief cameo by again taking a seat on the bench for today’s Scottish Premiership clash with St Mirren.
Butcher admits Harris is not yet ready to start top-flight matches, but, with the Under-20 side returning to action this week after their winter break, he is set to be given much-needed game time, starting with the match against St Mirren’s youngsters in Paisley.
The Easter Road kids, who top the Scottish Premiership Under-20 and East of Scotland Leagues, have been enjoying a two-week break in the Turkish resort of Antalya under the European Union’s Leonardo Da Vinci project. They played one game, beating Gabala Fk from Azerbaijan 5-0 with goals from Taylor Hendry (two), Jay Doyle, Bob Wilson and Gareth McCaffrey.
But their trip coincided with Harris’ need for game time, leaving Butcher to include him in the squad at Pittodrie despite the fact he hadn’t played since suffering his ankle break against Motherwell on the opening day of the season.
Now Butcher intends to use the forthcoming Under-20 matches to help hone Harris’ fitness. He said: “Is Alex ready to start? Not at the moment, I wouldn’t have thought so.
“We have missed the Under-20 matches. They’ve been away in Turkey, but come back next week and those matches will be great for Alex.”
And Butcher believes Harris’ return will help Hibs bid to claim a place in the top six for the first time in four seasons, the Capital club currently lying in seventh place behind St Johnstone only on goal difference, although the Perth outfit do have a game in hand.
But Butcher wants his side to be well-placed to make that push in the weeks leading up to the split, insisting March and April will be vital months with Hibs set to play just two league games in February, their clash with Inverness Caley postponed as his old club face Hearts in the semi-final of the League Cup, while the following weekend sees them play Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup.
The Hibs boss said: “We have two home games coming up after two away games in difficult environments. St Mirren and Celtic are two contrasting sides, but they are two games we want to win.
“St Johnstone have a game in hand, but we are trying to chase the team above them. February is going to be a funny month because we are going to miss a couple of weekends because of the cups. So March and April will be the months where we want to make good progress, especially March, before the split. To do that with games running out, we have to make sure every game counts.”