Jordon Forster thought the stomach pains he was suffering were no more than a touch of indigestion only to discover he was in need of an emergency operation to remove his appendix.
And the timing could not have been any worse for the Hibs defender, struck down as he readied himself for a return to action after two months out recovering from a broken foot sustained in a freak training ground accident.
Pencilled in to play for the Under-20s, Forster found himself going under the knife at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital and facing yet more time on the sidelines.
Today the 21-year-old said: “It’s been really frustrating, I’d been out with a broken bone in my right foot since October and was down to make my comeback against Hamilton in mid-December. But on the Tuesday of that week I had a sore stomach which kept getting worse so I didn’t train that day.
“I went in on the Wednesday when I started to feel a wee bit better but then it started getting worse again. I’d had some wee stomach problems in the past but I thought it was only indigestion or whatever but this time it was really bad. My family told me to get myself to hospital and although I started to feel a bit better again it was decided my appendix should be whipped out.
“Possibly that was the cause of my previous problems although that’s for the doctors to say. It was a bit uncomfortable for the first week but now I’m glad it’s all over and done with.”
Even so, Forster didn’t return to full training until last Thursday, a fact which made the sight of his name among the substitutes for the weekend clash with Cowdenbeath something of a surprise, the youngster stepping from the bench to enjoy the final 12 minutes of a 5-0 victory.
Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs later revealed the return wasn’t planned, Forster only stripping for the game after new striker Franck Dja Djedje was ruled out with a hamstring problem and getting the nod to replace Dylan McGeouch only after Scott Robertson had put Hibs 3-0 up.
Forster said: “It was a wee bit of a surprise to be involved at all. I’d only started training with the squad on Thursday although I’d been preparing for a couple of weeks, working hard with the fitness team. I’m still maybe a couple of games away but I was happy to get the nod.
“Franck had picked up a wee niggle and I think the gaffer put me in as a bit of cover as I was the only defender on the bench. I’d found out on Friday afternoon I’d be a sub. I was out doing a bit of running in the afternoon when I was told ‘that will do’ because I might be on the bench. I was quite happy to have the running cut short.”
After watching Paul Hanlon and Jason Cummings fire Hibs into an early two-goal lead, Forster admits he was fretting on a third goal, believing that if Stubbs’ side could increase their advantage it would help his chances of a cameo appearance. And his wish was granted when Robertson slalomed through the Blue Brazil defence to do so.
He said: “I was hoping that as soon as it went 3-0 or 4-0 I might get some game time and I was delighted to get back out on the pitch. It’s been a long, frustrating time being on the sidelines. The reception I got from the fans as I came on was great and hopefully I can repay them in the weeks to come.”
It’s not only Forster who has been frustrated in recent months, Stubbs having found his squad hit by a string of injuries with striker Farid El Alagui out since August with a ruptured Achilles tendon and still to return; Dylan McGeouch only just back following ankle surgery and now right-back David Gray sidelined following a groin operation.
Even so, Forster, who will continue his comeback by facing Hearts in the “mini” derby at Spartans’ Ainslie Park complex tonight (kick-off 7.15pm), insists the improvement made under Stubbs over the course of the past few months is there for all to see with Hibs having lost just once in 15 league matches.
He said: “What made being out all the more frustrating was it came just as the team was beginning to motor. Maybe the start of the season came a wee bit too early for us, the performances were there but perhaps we hadn’t quite gelled as a team. We found it difficult to see games out or put teams away but since then things have improved massively.
“Barring the game against Falkirk, we’re defending better and scoring more goals which was perhaps a bit of a problem for us earlier on. But to have five different goalscorers against Cowdenbeath and to keep a clean sheet was good for us.”
While Jason Cummings took his tally for the season to 12, the Championship’s top scorer making it six goals in his last five games, Forster admitted it was the late strikes from Callum Booth and Lewis Stevenson which wrapped up the win that he and his team-mates possibly enjoyed even more, the pair hardly being noted for their respective strike rates.
Insisting 19-year-old Cummings is the frontrunner to be the Championship’s player of the month, Forster said: “I think you could see the fans also enjoyed those goals. Lewis has been brilliant in our last ten games or so and having been here so long you feel the genuine sense of warmth from the supporters towards him for his goal. There was a good bit of banter from the rest of us towards them, if you can’t have a bit of fun at a time like that then when can you? I don’t think we played brilliantly against Cowdenbeath but it was a good win and terrific to see the goals coming from all areas.”
Now Forster is hoping a full-strength Hibs side can claw back Rangers’ five-point advantage, saying: “We’ve been hampered by injuries from virtually the start of the season, Farid, myself, Dylan and now David out while Dominique Malonga is away to the Africa Cup of Nations.
“That’s Dylan and myself back, hopefully Farid and David won’t be much longer and when Dominique also returns it will be like a raft of new signings. We’ve been doing well but now we are really looking forward to the games coming up, to picking up more points and catching Rangers. We’ve cut the gap and now it’s about keeping the heat on them.
“Hearts are a long way ahead, and all credit to them, but our main objective is to look to win Saturday’s match against Queen of the South and seek to haul Rangers in week-by-week.”