At this time last year, Jordon Forster was an established fixture in the Hibs starting XI.
He had been a regular under Terry Butcher the season before last as his team were relegated from the Premiership and he started each of the first 12 competitive games of Alan Stubbs’ reign.
Then he had the wind unexpectedly removed from his young sails. On the eve of a Championship trip to Livingston in mid-October, a broken foot sustained on the training ground set in motion a wretched year of injury problems for the recently-turned 22-year-old defender.
That injury was followed by an operation to have his appendix removed in December. Although he eventually forced his way back into the starting XI in April and started six successive games towards the end of the campaign, he was halted in his tracks once again when he suffered ankle ligament damage at Falkirk on the final day of the Championship season and subsequently missed the play-off matches against Rangers. The prospect of a fresh start to the current campaign was dashed in the opening game when he suffered a hamstring injury in the 6-2 Petrofac Cup defeat by the Ibrox side. He has been sidelined ever since after a slight recurrence a couple of weeks ago delayed his comeback.
Given such misfortune, Forster is taking nothing for granted. However, he now sees light at the end of the tunnel and, with a return to full training imminent, he expects to be back in contention for a place in the match-day squad for the home game against Dumbarton in a fortnight’s time, a full year after his injury troubles began.
“It’s been a very frustrating year for me,” he told the Evening News. “If you ask any footballer, if you keep picking up different injuries here and there, it effects you mentally more than anything. That’s been the case for me. The hardest thing has been trying to keep my head right every time I suffer a setback so that I’m ready to get back fit again.
“I’ve had four reasonably serious injuries in the space of a year. It’s been the worst I’ve had. Growing up in football, you always have the odd wee issue here and there. But before I broke my foot a year ago, I’d gone well over a year without ever seeing the inside of the physio’s room. But ever since I broke my foot, it’s been one thing after another and it’s been really frustrating. I’m not an injury-prone player. When I first came into the side [in 2013], I had a run of games at the end of the season, then played in the Scottish Cup final and then when we came back after the summer I played regularly for most of the season before last [2014/15]. Last season, when the new manager [Stubbs] came in, I played the first 12 games of the season. But ever since I broke my foot, it’s been a real struggle to get myself fit for a sustained period of time.
“I’m getting there now, though. I will be back in full training come the end of the week, touch wood, and the plan is to be back in the squad for the Dumbarton game. I’ve been in this situation many times before though and I seem to have kept getting setbacks, so hopefully this is the last of the injuries and I can just focus on playing again.”
Even after battling his way back towards full fitness, the homegrown academy product is bracing himself for another significant challenge: forcing his way back into the Hibs defence and doing enough to earn himself a contract extension beyond next summer. That will be no straightforward feat given that the team have kept seven clean sheets in their last ten games. Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine have established themselves as a favoured centre-back pairing, while Darren McGregor recently arrived to provide extra defensive competition and cover.
Forster acknowledges he is vying with good, seasoned defenders for a place in the team, but the bullish Edinburgh boy is adamant he can force his way back into Stubbs’ plans and rediscover the form he showed towards the end of last term when he helped Hibs finish the regulation Championship season with five straight wins.
“Players will always say they don’t think about who else is playing in their position and you do try not to think about that side of things but it’s only natural that it creeps into a player’s mind every time the manager signs a player in your position at a time when things are not going too well for you,” Forster said, with reference to the arrival of McGregor. “All these things do build up in your head but that’s why you need to stay positive and keep your mind 100 per cent focused.
“The manager’s been good with me though. He’s spoken to me regularly and kept up to date with my situation. He has a word in my ear here and there and he’s been there for me whenever I’ve needed him. His door’s always open.
“When the manager first came in, I was the only player to play every minute of the first 12 games last season. I know he believes in me and when I’m fit and playing well, I’m confident that I’ll be in the starting XI. I’ve proved before that I can come back from injury and do well. When I got back fit earlier this year, I started the last six games of last season before I damaged the ligaments in my ankle against Falkirk [on the last day of the league season]. The game against Hearts at Easter Road when we beat them 2-0 [in April] was easily one of the strongest performances I’ve ever had and that was just a few weeks after coming back from injury.
“I’m competing with Fonts, Paul and now big Darren, who has come in and strengthened the squad. We’re all good players but it’s a dog-eat-dog world and I want to play for Hibs every week. I’ll do whatever it takes. It’s up to the manager at the end of the day but I’m very confident in my own ability and I believe I’m a good player. I just need to remain focused and hopefully stay out the treatment room. I just want to get myself back in the team, keep myself fit, help the team win promotion and hopefully earn myself a new contract.”
League One side Peterhead have been linked with a loan move for Forster but he insists his only focus is on regaining a starting place at Hibs. “I had heard whispers about going out on loan but it’s just speculation and rumours as far as I’m aware,” he said. “Going out on loan has never been spoken about. I’m just focused on getting fit and getting back into the starting XI at Hibs.”