Terry Butcher today insisted he won’t gamble on the fitness of Hibs stars Scott Robertson and James McPake, although he’d love to see both of them play a part in hauling the Easter Road outfit clear of the relegation play-off spot.
Both players have returned to full training after lengthy lay-offs through injury. McPake has been out since the end of October and underwent an operation to cure the back problems which have dogged him over the past couple of seasons, while Robertson, left, has been sidelined since mid-January due to medial ligament damage.
The duo could both feature in tonight’s SPFL Under-20s match against Dunfermline at East End Park (kick-off 6pm) and, as revealed by the Evening News last week, both have told Butcher they are desperate for first-team action as soon as possible.
But while he’s equally anxious to have his squad strengthened by the return of two experienced players, Butcher is acutely aware of the dangers of throwing players back into the frenetic pace of the Premiership before they are ready.
He’s particularly conscious of the fact that defender McPake, who has played just six first-team games this season, has been out for almost six months and Robertson for three, the midfielder, ironically, having sustained his injury in an Under-20s match against Hearts as he sought game-time following a three-week absence.
Having already stated Robertson is ahead of McPake – who hasn’t played under Butcher – in the race for a recall given he’s been out for only half the time that the big defender has been missing, the Hibs boss said: “We’ve missed Scott, there’s no doubt. Ideally I’d like to see him play a couple of matches at under-20 level, but the games are running out there too.
“Both Scott and James have been doing well in training, but I don’t like to gamble on players’ fitness.
If you ask a player to play, he will say ‘yes’, so you don’t let them decide. We’ll speak to the doctors, the physios and, if need be, specialists.”
After cancelling his players’ day off to subject them to a re-run of their defeat against St Mirren, the club’s fifth successive loss, Butcher insisted all focus is now on Sunday’s derby against Hearts.
He said: “We watched the entire match, we had a good discussion afterwards and then went training. We have four games left, we know what we have to do and the derby is a great game to be involved in.”
Meanwhile, St Mirren boss Danny Lennon has accused Hibs midfielder Kevin Thomson of “conning” referee Kevin Clancy into showing Buddies’ skipper Jim Goodwin a red card during the match in Paisley. Revealing the sending off will be appealed and claiming contact was “minimal”, Lennon said: “Unfortunately the opponent grossly over-reacted and made the tackle look like something it wasn’t.”
Thomson, though, was in no doubt the ref called it right. He said: “I thought it was a poor tackle. I thought it was quite nasty, to be honest.”