Terry BUTCHER has raised hopes that Hibs could welcome key duo Paul Heffernan and Alex Harris back from injury for next week’s New Year derby.
Teenage winger Harris has been out of action since breaking a bone in his right ankle on the opening day of the season while striker Heffernan managed just six minutes of Butcher’s first match in charge, against St Mirren, before succumbing to a thigh problem.
However, the pair have now returned to full training and, while the Hibs boss believes today’s match against Ross County in Dingwall and the visit of Kilmarnock on Sunday may be just too soon for either of them, he is confident both players will be available for selection when Hearts pitch up at Easter Road on January 2. Butcher has made little secret of his admiration for Harris, believing the 18-year-old can inject the turn of pace his side has lacked out wide, while Hibs fans will hope Heffernan can help ease their problems in front of goal, with the Capital outfit the lowest-scoring side in the Scottish Premiership and having netted just once in their last seven league matches.
Butcher is convinced the goals will eventually come as long as his players continue to meet his demands of getting the ball into their opponent’s penalty area, although he admitted it might take one “streaky, deflected” strike to break the drought. There’s little doubt, though, that having both Harris and Heffernan at his disposal would enhance his attacking options. Heffernan and Harris rejoined the squad for training at the beginning of last week, the hitman having spent so much time running under the supervision of physio David Henderson last week that assistant manager Maurice Malpas claimed he’d lost “three inches in height.”
Harris’ rehabilitation has taken longer given the length of time he’s been sidelined, the severity of the injury – operations needed to insert a pin to aid healing and then its removal – and recognition it was his first serious injury and required to be treated cautiously.
Nevertheless, Butcher’s delight that both are on the brink of a return was obvious. Joking that with only defender James McPake sidelined with a back injury, training had been “like a scene from Ben Hur”, the Hibs boss said: “Alex had his first real competitive session with the team on Monday, although he has been training with the Under-20s as well.
“Alex is a little bit ahead of Paul, so today’s game and Sunday’s are probably a little bit too quick, but then there’s the derby to come. We will see about that, but it would be nice if he was available – but it has to be right for him too.”