If it wasn’t for the untimely recurrence of a hamstring problem in July, there’s a good chance Keith Watson would have been part of a Hibs squad currently challenging for the Championship title. Instead, he has found himself toiling towards the bottom of the table with a St Mirren team who haven’t taken well to life in the second tier.
The 26-year-old defender made eight appearances for the Hibees during a spell on loan from Dundee United in the second half of last season. A hamstring injury sustained in early April brought his season to a premature halt and ruled him out of the Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk and the play-off semi-final against Rangers. He still had a chance to prolong his Hibs career, however, when Alan Stubbs invited him to join the squad for pre-season training in La Manga with a view to signing if he proved his fitness. Unfortunately for Watson, his hamstring started playing up at just the wrong time.
“The boys at Hibs had been back for about a week of pre-season and my agent had been speaking to the club,” he told the Evening News. “I ended up going to La Manga with them and did a bit of training, but then I felt my hamstring getting a bit niggly again. It wasn’t as bad as the injury that finished me off last season but I had to stop training for a week or two to get some treatment.
“When I was coming back to fitness after we got back from La Manga, I still hadn’t heard anything so I had to start looking elsewhere and I ended up signing for St Mirren. I think the timing of the injury in pre-season probably counted against me with Hibs and it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve enjoyed it at St Mirren. I’ve been getting a good run of games, so hopefully that continues.”
Watson, who has been playing right back for Saints, will return to Easter Road for the second time this season after helping his side to a 1-1 draw there in September. He could find himself part of a defence required to shackle Anthony Stokes, should the Irishman makes his Hibs debut after joining on loan from Celtic.
“I think Stokes will be a good signing for Hibs,” said Watson. “He’s a proven goalscorer, who has scored plenty goals in the Premiership for years. I’ve played against him plenty times before when I was at United and you can see he’s a quality player. He likes to pull wide and get on the ball. If he plays against us on Saturday, we’ll need to be on our toes. First and foremost, though, we’ll focus on ourselves. Hibs have got that big a squad that they’ve got several different players who could play up front, so we’ll not be focusing too much on any individuals. Whether it’s [Jason] Cummings and Stokes or Cummings and [Dominique] Malonga, we know we’ll be in for a tough game.”
Hibs slipped five points behind leaders Rangers after drawing at Falkirk last weekend, but Watson still believes they are strong title contenders.
“Last year, when I was there, Hibs had a really good team and they’ve re-signed a lot of those boys this season,” he said. “The main difference is that they’ve got a bigger squad this time. They’re definitely still contenders for the league. They were quite a bit behind before and managed to pull it back. I think it’ll go right to the wire.”
St Mirren, who are just three points clear of the relegation play-off spot, arrive at Easter Road hoping to build on a run of two wins from their last three league games since Alex Rae replaced former Hibs captain Ian Murray as manager last month. Also in the Buddies’ corner will be David Farrell, the ex-Hibs midfielder who has been recruited as Rae’s assistant. “I think we’ve got a good squad but for whatever reason the first half of the season hasn’t been good enough,” said Watson. “I enjoyed working with Ian but obviously football’s all about results and for whatever reason we weren’t getting results. The new manager’s come in with his own ideas and he’s brought in a new assistant. We’ve had a couple of good wins against Alloa and Morton lately, so hopefully we’re turning the corner and can start climbing the table. Hibs away is one of the hardest games of the season but we’ll look forward to it. We’ve already shown this season that we can go there and pick up a result.”