Hibs manager Pat Fenlon today revealed James McPake is now fully fit and ready for action – but the skipper has been told he will have to bide his time for a return to the starting XI.
The centre-back has been on the bench for Hibs’ past five matches as he gradually worked his way towards full fitness after suffering another back injury early in the 7-0 defeat at home to Malmo in July.
Fenlon, right, instantly moved to sign Michael Nelson as a replacement for his injured captain and the ex-Kilmarnock man has formed such a good partnership with Paul Hanlon – they have kept clean sheets in three of their last five league games – that the boss has felt no need to rush McPake back into the side.
The 29-year-old’s only first-team action over the past three months was a 20-minute appearance in the second half of the win at St Johnstone last month.
Despite being a regular whenever fit throughout his 22 months at Easter Road, the competition for places in Fenlon’s squad means McPake is set to remain on the bench for tomorrow’s lunchtime visit of Celtic.
“James is fine – he’s ready to play,” the manager confirmed. “He just hasn’t been able to get in the team at the moment because the centre-half partnership has done well for us. It’s testament to the impact that Michael’s had that James hasn’t been able to get back in the team. Michael and Paul have done well together. James is a quality player.
“Physically and fitness-wise, he’s ready, so to know that we have him waiting to play is a big plus for us. It just shows how much competition for places there is. The players know they need to stay on their toes because if they drop their levels, there’s always someone waiting to take their place. When everybody’s fit we’ve got real competition all over the park.”
Fenlon has been encouraged by a run which has seen Hibs lose only one of their last eight games, although the manager concedes there’s still a long way to go until they reach the level he wants. “We’re fairly pleased with the run we’re on,” he said. “We know there’s still loads of work to do. We’ve ground out results. We’ve played well in some games and not so well in others but to lose only one game in eight is good because this is a tough league and there’s not big gaps between the teams. On any given day, you can get turned over by any team so it’s a good run for us.”