Thomas Agyepong has seen light at the end of the tunnel time and again this season only to find it’s been an express train hurtling at him.
Injury after injury has restricted the winger to just 26 minutes of first-team action in the past six months, wrecking what he’d hoped would be a rewarding loan spell at Easter Road.
Given the setbacks he has suffered – leaving the field in tears after his return following a two-month absence was cut short – few would deny Agyepong the huge grin which split his face following a cameo appearance as Hibs extended their unbeaten league run under Paul Heckingbottom to nine matches with a no-scoring draw against Celtic.
Time is now short for the Manchester City player to make the impact he had wished for when he first arrived in Edinburgh but the 22-year-old is determined to make the most of every minute he gets on the pitch.
“It was only seven minutes,” said the Ghana internationalist. “But it was a fantastic moment for me to be back playing again.
“It’s been a tough season for me with the injuries I have had. I came to Hibs with a vision of playing well and helping the team but I’ve had a terrible time.”
Having initially suffered a hamstring injury in what was his only start in a green-and-white shirt away to St Mirren at the end of September, Agyepong’s long-awaited return came as a second-half substitute at home to Dundee two months later.
However, he didn’t even see that game out, a thigh strain forcing him off three minutes before the final whistle.
He recalled: “I was crying as I walked off because I had worked so hard to come back from the hamstring problem and to break down again was heart-breaking.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is doing all that work, the boring daily routine of doing what you have to do in rehabilitation and then know you are going to have to do it all again. It was soul-destroying, mentally-challenging.
“I came up here wanting to contribute and progress as a player but the only way you can do that is by playing week after week, and I haven’t done that.
“It’s been really tough but you have to look at the end goal which is coming back and playing like I did against Celtic. That’s what keeps you going and working hard which I have done.”
Such have been Agyepong’s troubles – he had managed just six first-team outings before Sunday’s appearance – he admitted he understood just why many fans were questioning whether they’d see him again.
“That’s true,” he agreed, “A lot of people probably thought they’d seen the last of me but for me I kept my hopes alive and stayed positive.
“It’s like a child learning to walk, he falls down, gets up, falls down, gets up and eventually he is able to walk on his own, you have to get up and keep pushing.”
Agyepong could have returned to Manchester to recuperate but elected to remain at East Mains, as Hibs’ medical team worked closely with that of City’s on nursing him back to full health.
He said: “I decided to stay here because I am part of the team and not go back to Manchester where I would have been so far away from them.
“The medical teams of both clubs have been amazing, they’ve been very supportive, making sure everything was done properly. Every now and again City could come up to check on me, to see how I was doing but they’ve both been great over this tough period.”
Joleon Lescott has also been a shoulder for Agyepong to lean on, the former Manchester City player now a mentor for a group of young players.
Agyepong said: “City have a programme in which people manage their loan players and I am among those Joleon looks after. He’s been amazing for me, always on the phone and has been up a couple of times to make sure everything is fine for me.”
Having Lescott on hand to lend his experience was, said Agyepong, also of great benefit during his darkest days.
He said “I honestly did not think I would be out for so long. I thought I’d be back in January but then I had another strain in my quad. Unfortunately, when you are out for that long there is always going to be some little niggle that holds you back.”
Agyepong’s frustration at being idle was only heightened when Heckingbottom came in to replace Neil Lennon, his time being spent in the treatment room rather than out on the training pitch trying to catch the new head coach’s eye.
He said: “When a new manager comes in everyone has to prove themselves to get into the team but you can’t because you are injured.”
Agyepong, however, was heartened to find himself in the squad for the visit of Celtic and delighted to get the final few minutes as Heckingbottom tweaked his side in an effort to find that elusive winning goal.
“He’d seen me work hard in training,” said the player. “And for him to give me that time on the pitch shows he has faith in me so it’s up to me to repay that.
“There’s only four games left but I am determined to make the most of every time I get the chance to play, even if it’s just for five minutes. I’d be happy to come on and help the team. It’s been a long, tough journey for me so every opportunity I get is going to be a joy.”
The fact Hibs earned themselves a top-six finish and are now chasing down a potential place in next season’s Europa League was, agreed Agyepong, an added incentive.
He said: “Top six was the goal and to be back available for what are going to be the most exciting games of the season is great for me.”