It had been so long since he’d last started a Championship match that Jordon Forster could hardly remember when it was.
To refresh his memory, it came on the final day of the season before last, Falkirk away on May 2, 2015.
The game ended happily for Hibs, a 3-0 win but given he was forced to hobble off with an ankle injury minutes into the second half and forced to miss the promotion play-off matches against Rangers, it’s perhaps not surprising the 23-year-old’s recollection is a bit hazy.
Restored to full health, Forster was back as Hibs kicked off last season against the Ibrox club in the Petrofac Cup only for the defender’s injury curse – a broken foot and an appendix operation had previously sidelined him – to strike again, a pulled hamstring meaning yet another early departure.
Unfortunately by the time Forster had fully recovered from that setback, Alan Stubbs’ side had embarked on an extraordinary run which saw them unbeaten from the end of August until the final week in February.
By then, though, Forster was gone. Desperate for first-team football he agreed a six-month loan deal with English League Two outfit Plymouth Argyle, managed by a familiar figure in former Hibs assistant Derek Adams, his time on the south coast spent reflecting, as his Easter Road contract ran down, of where his career was taking him.
A change of manager and a chat with new boss Neil Lennon convinced him that his future still lay in Edinburgh but, as far as first-team appearances were concerned, the story remained very much the same, Forster limited to a few late appearances as a substitute augmented by a rare start in the Irn-Bru Cup tie away to Turriff United.
An impressive start to the season forced Forster to once again be patient, to await his opportunity which finally came as team-mate Lewis Stevenson picked up a one-match ban after being booked twice against Queen of the South, his dismissal that day resulting in a reshuffle at the back with Paul Hanlon moving out to left back while he partnered Darren McGregor in central defence.
As Stevenson prepared to sit out the visit of Dundee United and with Liam Fontaine continuing to recover from a calf problem, Forster suspected Lennon would go with the same back four as had finished the game at Palmerston Park although, he admitted, he was taking nothing for granted.
His hunch, though, proved correct and, some 43 league games after that day in Falkirk he was finally out there on the pitch to hear the first blast of referee Craig Thomson’s whistle.
“Thanks for reminding me,” retorted Forster when the length of his absence was put to him, “but, yes, it’s been a while.
“Having come on last week when Lewis was sent off I felt I’d be starting against United although it was obviously the manager’s call. I just trained hard through the week in training, doing the same things I do every week but, perhaps, with a few extra per cent thinking I’d be playing. I’d signed my new contract knowing there were good defenders here, guys who had played a lot together last year, so it was going to be tough to get a game. I was under no illusions that I’d be playing every week.
“I’ve played now and again, started up at Turriff and now again so hopefully I’ve given the manager something to think about for this Saturday’s game against St Mirren.”
As happy as he was to see his patience rewarded, Forster agreed the shine had been somewhat taken off his day by United snatching a draw, Tannadice stopper William Edjenguele’s header cancelling out James Keatings first-half strike to leave Hibs without a win in their last three games, just two points taken out of a possible nine.
It’s a record which has seen Queen of the South leapfrog the Easter Road side at the top of the table, United’s fightback robbing Lennon’s players of the chance not only to retake pole position but to put a little more distance between themselves and the chasing pack given the previous day’s results. Forster said: “I think you can look at outside factors in the draw with Queens, Lewis being sent off, the artificial pitch, the horrible weather and it would be fair to say a point was not the worst in the world.
“But we should have beaten United. I thought we completely dominated the first half but let them back into the game.
To lose a goal from a set piece was disappointing but we had chances to put the game to bed and that’s something we need to do better, to kill games off and not give the opposition a hope of getting back into things.” Admitting it could have been a significant weekend for Lennon’s side, Forster added: “We knew at the start of the day we had the chance to go top again. It would have been great for us and our supporters to see us back at the top of the table and to also have widened the gap between ourselves and a few others.
“After games you always look back and say this and that, but we didn’t do it and that’s why Queens remain top and the others are where they were before. We should have been clear but we are not, we got ourselves ahead, should have been more comfortable and should have won.
“We should be beating teams 3-0 and putting nails into coffins, especially at home. We can’t hide away from the fact we should have won the game, so it’s disappointing for everyone.” Hibs now have a two-week break before their next Championship match, away to Raith Rovers, but will fill this weekend with an Irn-Bru Cup clash with basement side St Mirren in Edinburgh, a match Forster insisted he and his team-mates will be approaching with serious intent.
He said: “People say the Irn-Bru Cup is of less importance and given our goal is promotion, it probably is. But it’s still a cup and we want to go as far as we can in it and hopefully win it.”