Hibs boss Terry Butcher today admitted having experienced striker Paul Heffernan fit for the SPFL Premiership Play-Off Final against Hamilton was an unexpected bonus.
Butcher had declared Heffernan’s season over when the 32-year-old tore a groin muscle while warming up before a match against Aberdeen at the start of last month. But he made a shock return in facing his old club Kilmarnock on the final day of the regular season, a game Hibs lost to finish 11th, leaving them to battle Accies in a double-header for the right to play in the top flight.
Although the Dublin-born hitman was clearly less than fit that day, Butcher believes the 90 minutes against Killie and the break Hibs have enjoyed waiting to discover who their play-off opponents would be has given Heffernan time to hone his fitness.
And he firmly feels Heffernan’s timely comeback can not only boost Hibs’ goals record – the Easter Road side scored just 31 in their 38 league matches and only three in their last ten games – but help steer the club to safety.
He said: “Playing Paul was a bit of a gamble but he’s a proven goalscorer, he wanted to play and we knew we had to get a goal. I think he was out on his feet for the last ten or 15 minutes, he looked as if he was running on fumes.
“But you can see that game has done him a lot of good as has the training we’ve been doing in the intervening period. I didn’t expect to have Paul back given the nasty injury he suffered but it’s certainly a bonus to have him available again.
“Paul has got vast experience. He can hit the target and hopefully that’s the case tomorrow night and again on Sunday. Hopefully his presence will cause Hamilton’s defence a bit of concern and unsettle them a little. Although we were poor before the Hearts match, I actually feel we did all right in our last four matches, even if we didn’t get the goals and points we needed.”
Butcher also confirmed that midfielder Kevin Thomson, who missed the last two games of the season with a thigh strain, is training and should be ready to face Hamilton.
Hibs fans were today on course to snap up the final few tickets of the club’s 2700 allocation for tomorrow’s trip to New Douglas Park, with all but a couple of hundred sold yesterday. Bobby Madden will be the referee tomorrow night, while Willie Collum will take charge of Sunday’s second leg.