JAMES KEATINGS was delighted to finally end a “nightmare” start to his Hibs career when he stepped off the bench to make his debut in last night’s 1-0 League Cup triumph over Stranraer.
The 23-year-old striker joined from city rivals Hearts almost three months ago, but a hamstring injury sustained in La Manga in early July meant he had missed all of his side’s pre-season friendlies and competitive matches. He finally got to make his Hibs bow when he replaced Jason Cummings with seven minutes remaining of the second-round tie against the League One side.
Although unable to add to his side’s lead – secured via a Scott Rumsby own goal early in the second half – Keatings was buzzing to be back in the thick of it. “It’s been a very frustrating start to my Hibs career,” he told the Evening News.
“It’s just been a total nightmare, so I was delighted to finally step out on the pitch. When you join a club, you want to go and impress and show what you can do, but it’s just not happened for me yet.
“I tweaked my hamstring in La Manga then came back and tore it in training. I had a wee setback when I was coming back but now I’m back and feeling strong, so hopefully that’s the end of it and I can hit the ground running.”
Keatings hopes to play a more prominent role in Saturday’s Championship match at home to Raith Rovers, although he admits it will take time to build up his match fitness.
“I still need to get match sharpness,” he explained. “I was blowing as soon as I came on against Stranraer. It’s always hard coming on, especially when you’ve been out for a while. I’ll see how it goes in training but I’m ready to play on Saturday if the manager picks me.
“My first full start for Hearts was against Raith and I scored a hat-trick, so it would be nice if I could make a similar impact this weekend. I’m just desperate to get back out and start scoring goals again.”
Meanwhile, Alan Stubbs was content simply to be in today’s third-round draw after Stranraer dug deep and ensured a frustrating night for the home support. Having seen seven of the nine favourites either knocked out or taken to extra-time in Tuesday’s ties, the Hibs head coach said: “We’ve kept a clean sheet and we’re through, so I’m happy.
“In ties like this, getting through is the most important thing, as we’ve already seen in this round. I never felt it wasn’t going to be our night – we had a lot of the ball and I felt they would tire. We rushed things a bit at times but we created chances.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Real Madrid or whoever, if a team puts ten men behind the ball, it’s not easy. Reporters and fans can think it’s easy, but I can assure you, having played in games like those myself, it’s difficult. You have to be patient. You also have to give Stranraer a bit of credit.
“They threw their bodies on the line and got some excellent blocks in.”
Fraser Fyvie limped off in the second half, but Stubbs said: “He’s okay. He just felt his hamstring tighten. He didn’t strain it or anything so we’re hopeful that he’ll be okay for the weekend.”