Hibs striker Christian Doidge on his injury comeback, righting Hampden wrongs, and finally beating Rangers
As he stepped onto the pitch for the final ten minutes at Hampden, with Hibs 3-1 up and having one foot in the Premier Sports Cup final, a huge roar greeted Christian Doidge. The noise from the Hibs fans was borderline cathartic, and for good reason.
The forward has been a big miss from the Easter Road attack since suffering an Achilles injury back in August ahead of the second leg of Hibs’ Europa Conference League third-round tie with HNK Rijeka of Croatia.
Initial reports suggested he could be out until Christmas but head coach Jack Ross hinted that the former Forest Green Rovers favourite could be back a lot sooner than that. Hibs have struggled up front and in defence without Doidge’s presence so the warm reception
"As soon as I got injured, they told me a timeline I could probably get back for. The semi-final was definitely the carrot,” Doidge beamed after the victory at the national stadium.
“I tried hard to get back for the last game but it was just a bit too soon. With an Achilles, you’ve got to be really careful because of what you can do to it.
“It was really nice to get out there. A lot of hard work has gone into it. To get the win like that and be around the fans was amazing.”
Doidge scored against Rangers last year in a 2-2 draw at Easter Road but was a frustrated spectator at Ibrox in early October.
“We started really well the last time we played them until Ryan Porteous got sent off. When you play against Rangers and are down to ten men, it’s going to be a long afternoon.
“This time we started really well and got that goal. Then another one. And another one – all thanks to Boyley.
“We created chances and kept it tight at the back. The goal they got was more us giving it to them with a couple of bad clearances.
“We scored some really good goals and limited them to a few chances.”
While the Covid-19 outbreak at the club might have made Doidge’s comeback more difficult, the forward insisted that it allowed him to stay focused on getting match-ready.
"It was good for me terms of not missing out on two games. I’m going to be available for those matches now so, selfishly, I’m pretty happy with that.
“I managed to do bits and bobs, stay mobile and fit and work hard on the Achilles. It got me here so it’s not too bad."
Doidge scored in his last semi-final appearance at Hampden in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final but this time around it was Martin Boyle who stole the show with a first-half hat-trick.
“When Boyley is in that kind of form there is not anyone in the league who can stop him,” he explained.
“He is so quick, so agile, and can finish. He’s got everything. I’m really happy for him.
"I just said to him that he had to go and get the ball signed. He was like, ‘oh, I don’t want to’. I told him you don’t score many hat-tricks at Hampden, especially against Rangers.
"Fair play to him. I’m very proud. I don’t know how many hat-tricks he’s had in his career but this one will be very special to him.”
Like many of the current Easter Road squad, Doidge is aware of the criticism levelled at the team that they don’t perform at Hampden. With two wins from their last five visits since October 2019, the record is not great.
“We’ve done well to get to Hampden on numerous occasions and we just haven’t got over the line,” the striker conceded.
“This time we did. Obviously there was extra motivation because we haven’t done very well there but we believed we could get a result.
"In the last few league games against Rangers, we’ve done really well. It was a matter of time before we got a result against them and this was the day.
"Last year was obviously really frustrating, but we parked that and came to Hampden on Sunday trying our hardest to get a result.
“We got it, and I’m so glad the fans were here to see it because the league campaign has been a bit frustrating recently. For them to be able to celebrate is a good feeling for us all.”
Hibs have a hectic schedule coming up in the league but there is also the small matter of a cup final against Celtic on December 19 and Doidge is desperate to be fully fit to play a part in that showpiece game.
"If it had gone to extra-time on Sunday, I could have been getting subbed on and subbed off,” he laughed afterwards.
"Celtic are really good side and going really well this year but everyone knows that anything can happen in a cup final.
“We can look forward to it. We’ll enjoy this result and then get into preparations for the league on Wednesday.”
Doidge’s return will be a welcome boost going into the busy festive season and his presence could very well help bring out the best in regular strike partner Kevin Nisbet.
For now though, the affable Welshman is fully focused on getting back up to scratch so he can start matches once more, and has one eye on Wednesday night’s trip to Dingwall.
“The rehab has been hard work. I’ve been running with two lads who are the fittest men in the world. That’s been hard, but also good, because I have to try and keep up with them.
“I’m getting a lot of fitness now from being in training with the lads but I’m only going to get match fit by playing games. Hopefully I might get a few minutes against Ross County."