JAMES McPake was today battling a fresh back problem ahead of Hibs’ crucial SPL clash with in-form Dundee United.
The Easter Road skipper, who broke three bones in his spine at the start of last year putting him out of action for six months, has been suffering a sore back in the wake of Sunday’s derby defeat by Hearts.
He’s been working with the club’s medical staff over the course of the week to ease the stiffness he’s been feeling, determined to continue playing his part in Hibs’ desperate battle to haul themselves away from the threat of relegation.
McPake, on loan from English Championship outfit Coventry City, has been credited by many as being a major factor in Fenlon’s side becoming more difficult to beat – the result at Tynecastle apart – as they’ve powered their way into the semi-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup and eked out a four-point advantage over SPL basement side Dunfermline.
Should he miss out tomorrow it would be seen as a huge blow to the Edinburgh club although Fenlon himself seemed optimistic the former Livingston defender will take his place in the side.
The manager said: “James is a little bit sore in the back. He’s played a few games and is a bit stiff at the moment so we are just trying to ease it out a bit and make sure he is okay for the weekend.”
Although McPake may be a worry, Fenlon will have Isaiah Osbourne and Ivan Sproule, suspended for the trip to Gorgie, available again while George Francomb, who needed “a fair few stitches” in a head wound sustained in the opening minutes at Tynecastle in a clash with Rudi Skacel, has returned to training although a decision will also have to be taken on his readiness to play in what his boss conceded was a tough match.
United have hauled themselves into fourth place in the table and into the race for Europe with an impressive unbeaten league run recently, one which Fenlon puts down partially to the consistency of selection which United boss Peter Houston has enjoyed.
He said: “Outside Celtic they are the form team in the league, they have been fantastic. Looking at the team we played against on Christmas Eve up there not much has changed in their line-up and that’s a big help to any manager to be able to pick the same guys week in week out.”
While admitting the disappointment of the derby loss still lingered, Fenlon insisted he hadn’t been too unhappy with most of Hibs’ recent performances other than the thumping by Celtic.
He said: “I think the performances have been okay in the last four or five matches, outside the Celtic game. For 45 minutes on Sunday we didn’t compete well enough with Hearts, the second half was decent and we created a few chances.
“It was difficult after Sunday, defeats are hard to take especially from your biggest rival. Having had some good results people had got their hopes up a little bit higher than our record in the derby over the last couple of years maybe merited.”