James McPAKE’S hopes of leading Hibs into their second successive Scottish Cup final are fading, Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon revealed today.
The club skipper has returned to training along with fellow defender Tim Clancy after the pair missed the Capital outfit’s last three SPL matches, McPake battling a back problem while his team-mate nursed the groin and stomach injuries which have troubled him in recent months.
But while Clancy came through the session apparently untroubled, Fenlon disclosed that former Livingston and Coventry City star McPake is “struggling.” Fenlon is prepared to give McPake until Friday before deciding on his starting line-up and five-man bench to face Celtic at Hampden on Sunday, but, he admitted, to lose him would be “a massive blow” to Hibs’ dream of finally ending their 111-year wait for the cup.
Fenlon knows McPake is desperate to play as Hibs bid to atone for the humiliation they suffered at the hands of arch-rivals Hearts 12 months ago, but he insisted sentiment won’t play a part when it comes to choosing which players will feature at the weekend.
He said: “James did a little bit yesterday, but he is a doubt at the minute. We would like to have him in the team, he is our captain, the team leader and we’d love to have him around. To lose him would be a massive blow as he is a big player for us.
“He will be desperate to play being the type of character he is, but he has to be right, we have to be sure. He’s struggling a bit at the minute, but we will give him to Friday.”
Although McPake would be devastated to miss out, Fenlon insisted the 28-year-old will put the team first, just as he will.
“I know that’s what James will do but as manager I have to make decisions for the good of the club. If he is not right, then I have to make that decision.”
If McPake fails to make it and Clancy convinces him of his fitness, then Fenlon could rejig his back four or simply retain Jordon Forster alongside Paul Hanlon in central defence. The 19-year-old turned in impressive performances in the victories over Hearts, Kilmarnock and Dundee which saw Hibs clinch seventh place in the SPL.
Fenlon said: “Jordon has done really well, he hasn’t looked out of place.”
Meanwhile, former Hibs star Russell Latapy will conduct a question-and-answer session at the Four in Hand in Easter Road between 1 and 5pm on Saturday following a screening of Hibs’ 6-2 win over Hearts. £10 tickets, available at the door, include a bottle of beer with proceeds going to the cancer charity CCLASP and Latapy’s charity in Trinidad.