Paul Hanlon has been ruled out of Sunday’s derby against Hearts amid fears the Hibs defender’s season may be over.
Hanlon missed the Easter Road side’s defeat by St Johnstone, one which condemned Terry Butcher’s players to a bottom-six finish for the fourth season in succession, after suffering a knee injury as Hibs went down to Partick Thistle the week before.
The former Scotland Under-21 skipper has now been told to rest for the next week to ten days in the hope he can avoid an operation, but if surgery proves necessary then, Butcher revealed, his season will come to an end.
The Hibs boss said: “Paul is a concern. He’s bruised his cartilage. It came on after the Partick game, his knee swelled up. He’s had a scan and seen a specialist and we will have to monitor him for the next week to ten days to see if it settles down. If it reacts positively then fine, he won’t need a minor operation but at the same time it has to be right for Paul. If it turns out he does need the op then, I think, that would be it for the season as far as he is concerned.”
And Butcher admitted the loss of Hanlon, now nearing 200 matches for Hibs although he is only 24, and his experience of Edinburgh derbies, would be a blow as the Easter Road club head for Tynecastle.
He said: “Paul is always there, he rarely misses a match so when something like this happens it’s big news for us. He was excellent in the last derby but we just have to get on with it.”
On-loan Arsenal youngster Daniel Boateng took Hanlon’s place alongside Michael Nelson at McDiarmid Park as he started his first match for Hibs and would look to be the obvious replacement again.
But while happy with the way Boateng had handled Saints dangerman Stevie May, Butcher insisted he had other options. He said: “It’s too early to go picking my team. We’ll take our time but the boys will most certainly be up for the game.
“You can feel things ratcheting up. Sunday is going to be some occasion.”
While a Hibs victory could see Hearts relegated if St Mirren avoid defeat at Inverness the previous day, Butcher insisted there was no place for such talk.
He is adamant his players should be focusing solely on getting a victory to aid their hopes of securing seventh place and easing lingering worries about being dragged into a battle for a play-off spot. “What we have to do is focus on putting in the performance that will get us the three points,” said Butcher.
“You can talk about everything else after the game but as things stand we’ve had two defeats in a row and we want to get back to winning ways. What better way than to win the derby?”