Hibs skipper James McPake today told Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon “I am here if you need me”, after playing his first full match in almost seven weeks.
McPake has been out of action since suffering another back injury early in the second leg of the Edinburgh club’s ill-fated Europa League encounter with Swedish outfit Malmo at the end of July.
He came through the full 90 minutes as the club’s Under-20 side defeated Motherwell 2-1 and, having also played 80 minutes of a closed-doors match against Rangers last week, the 29-year-old now feels he’d be ready to play in Saturday’s Scottish Premiership clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park if needed.
He said: “I thought the young boys were great. I felt we were by far the better team in the first half but then Motherwell came into it a bit which probably suited me on a selfish note because I had a bit of defending to do.
“I haven’t really set myself any targets. In the past I’ve said I want to be back for this game or that game but when you miss it then it’s another disappointment. I’ve been open-minded and let my body decide.
“I’ve trained for two-and-a-half weeks now, I played 80 minutes last week and now 90 so I feel, if need be, I would be ready but, again, that’s entirely up to the manager. I’ll just keep working away.”
McPake, of course, has been plagued by back problems since suffering a bad injury during his days with Coventry City, the former Livingston star missing the final few matches of last season including the Scottish Cup final against Celtic as he was once again struck down but, he revealed, his latest episode wasn’t related to any previous difficulties.
He said: “It was a bonus that it wasn’t the old injury. I’d gone up for a header and landed with a straight leg and right away I felt something. But it settled down quite quickly and began improving. I’ve taken my time, done a lot of strengthening work with the physios and I feel this is the best rehabilitation I have had. I have not rushed it whereas before I have maybe rushed it, that’s been the difference so hopefully that’s going to help me.”
Now McPake is determined to hit the high standards he sets himself as a player, admitting he’d been disappointed by his own performances last season although he conceded that with Michael Nelson having arrived from Bradford City, fellow long-term injury victim Tim Clancy on the comeback trail and teenager Jordon Forster waiting in the wings, he faces stiff competition.
He told Hibs TV: “I’ve always been my own worst critic. I set myself high standards, I know where I can get to and I can feel myself in games when I am not doing myself justice. I am not going to change now. The biggest problem last season was I was struggling, not injury-wise, but I just could not get up to the level of condition I wanted to be in.
“I was playing game after game hoping it would turn but it never did.
“Towards the end of the season I was glad of the break. I got through the full pre-season – that’s not been lost. I actually only lost two-and-a-half weeks as I was still in doing bits and pieces. That base is still there so I am looking to kick on now.”