Paul Heckingbottom relishing having replenished Hibs squad to choose from
Paul Heckingbottom is set to have near full first-team squad available for the first time as Hibs prepare to launch a final push for a place in the Europa League.
The Easter Road boss has, astonishingly, only used 12 players to start the eight Premiership matches since he arrived to replace Neil Lennon given the lengthy injury list he inherited.
Heckingbottom has yet to see Ryan Gauld, Steven Whittaker, Thomas Agyepong, Adam Bogdan or Darnell Johnson in first-team action but even so, the Capital club has taken 20 points out of a possible 24 in the Ladbrokes Premiership, clinching a top six finish, lifting them above city rivals Hearts and leaving them hot on the heels of Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.
While winger Martin Boyle and defender Ryan Porteous remain out for the rest of the season following respective knee surgeries, Heckingbottom insisted there is still time for others to make an impact in the five remaining matches, starting with the visit of Celtic on Sunday.
Goalkeeper Bogdan played his first 90 minutes since suffering concussion in the Scottish Cup tie with Elgin City more than two months ago in last Monday’s SPFL Reserve League game with Rangers as did Johnson, the on-loan Leicester City defender having suffered an ankle injury as he made his debut against Celtic at the beginning of February.
American defender Jonathan Spector also got his first full match under his belt that day before making his debut in the derby win over Hearts while Manchester City winger Agyepong, out for four months with a thigh injury, and Sporting Lisbon midfielder Gauld, who has been nursing a hamstring problem, both played 45 minutes.
Heckingbottom revealed Whittaker, who has been battling a groin injury for the past two months, would also have featured against Rangers but for illness.
Today’s reserve match with Dundee United at Oriam could provide all those players with a further opportunity to gain match fitness and Heckingbottom admitted he’ll relish having greater numbers at his disposal in the next few weeks.
He said: “We’ve only been working with 18 players for the majority of the time and it’s been good. But you do need different options, different games call for different things. It’s all about getting them game time.
“They are frustrated at not being able to be involved. Unfortunately they’ve been unable to do that so far and have felt a bit helpless – but there is still time for them to make an impact before the season is over.”