Hibs defender James McPake set to miss key Aberdeen clash

Injured: James McPake. Picture: SNS

Injured: James McPake. Picture: SNS

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HIBS are set to go into tonight’s crucial SPL clash against Aberdeen at Pittodrie without skipper James McPake.

The rugged defender, who has become a key figure in the Easter Road outfit’s fight to avoid relegation, picked up a groin injury during the weekend defeat by St Mirren.

And although Pat Fenlon will give the on-loan Coventry City stopper every chance, the Hibs boss admitted McPake was “doubtful enough” when asked just about the severity of his problem.

The loss of McPake would be a huge blow for the under-pressure Capital side, who travelled north without player of the year Lewis Stevenson – is suspended after being shown a red card in the dying minutes at Paisley – while a huge question mark also hangs over the fitness of Garry O’Connor.

The club’s top scorer missed the trip along the M8 on Sunday through illness and although he returned to training yesterday, Fenlon revealed that, as with McPake, he’ll have to assess his fitness before naming his team.

The Irishman said: “McPake has a bit of a sore groin. He didn’t do much in training yesterday, he hasn’t done a lot since the game and has had a bit of treatment. He’s a bit like Garry, we’ll need to see how he reacts and how they are today before we make a call.”

Although utility man Ian Murray is available again – he was on the bench against the Buddies following almost four months out of action following a hip operation – Fenlon faces going into crunch time for Hibs without a number of influential figures.

He knows striker Leigh Griffiths and David Wotherspoon are already out of Monday night’s showdown with relegation rivals – just three points in Hibs’ favour separate the teams at the bottom of the SPL table – and while Stevenson will be available again, the possible loss of McPake and O’Connor for that vital clash will be an unwelcome headache.

A resurgence by Jim Jefferies’ Pars allied to defeats at the hands of Kilmarnock and Saints have added an edginess around Easter Road, but Fenlon insisted a touch of nerves was not necessarily a bad thing.

He said: “I didn’t see too much nervousness about them (against St Mirren). But sometimes nerves are a good thing. It can generate more energy and as long as it’s used in the right way, and they don’t use it up before the game.

“We’re in a tough position and anyone who says they don’t feel that is not telling the truth because you are always going to be a bit edgy.”

And Fenlon insisted he’ll be ignoring Jefferies’ claims that Hibs are “still the ones that can throw it away,” saying: “I’m not too worried about what Jim has to say if I’m being honest. He’s been in the game long enough, he can play whatever games he likes.

“It doesn’t matter what managers say, you just put up with it. That’s football, and if it annoys you or upsets you then you get out – because we all do it, it’s part of football and what makes the game so good. Some players might care, but they really shouldn’t.”

Aberdeen boss Craig Brown is well aware of the importance of the game to Hibs’ SPL survival hopes and urged his own players to match they commitment he expects to see from their visitors.

He said: “Hibs will be really and thoroughly committed so it is up to us to make sure we have the same mentality. The seriousness of their situation will be emphasised to them so you can be sure it will be a fired-up Hibs team.

“Obviously we want a win. It is crucial from our pride point of view.”