James McPake eyes return for Hibs’ trip to Thistle

James McPake has not played for the first team since facing Hearts in October
James McPake has not played for the first team since facing Hearts in October
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James McPake took another big step towards returning to action after completing his second 90-minute outing for Hibs Under-20s.

The centre-back hasn’t played for the first team for exactly six months as he has battled to remedy an ongoing back problem ever since being sent off in the League Cup defeat by Hearts in October.

However, after playing the full match in the under-20s’clash at Dunfermline last week, McPake got more game time yesterday in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at East Mains.

McPake last week spoke of his desperation to return to the fray and, with six weeks’ training and 180 minutes of action now under his belt, he will be increasingly hopeful of making the first-team squad for this Saturday’s Premiership clash at home to Partick Thistle.

His chances of playing some part this weekend are heightened as Jordon Forster is suspended. The 20-year-old’s ban, allied to the fact Paul Hanlon is sidelined by injury, leaves manager Terry Butcher desperately short of reliable options at centre-back.

On-loan Arsenal youngster Daniel Boateng and left-back Ryan McGivern have both partnered Michael Nelson – the only fully fit and established centre-half available this weekend – over the past six weeks, but both matches, away to St Johnstone and at home to Aberdeen, brought 2-0 defeats.

Butcher had suggested that he was in no mood to rush players back from injury, but Scott Robertson returned from a three-month absence to start Sunday’s defeat by Hearts despite not having any under-20s game time under his belt.

And with Hibs just a point above second-bottom place after six straight defeats, the manager may be tempted to place his faith in the experience of McPake.