SCOTT Brown began an intensive training programme yesterday that is designed to allow him to take part in Sunday's eagerly anticipated Tennent's Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts.
The young Hibernian midfielder has been inactive through the seven-and-a-half weeks since the Easter Road side's 3-0 defeat of Rangers at Ibrox in the fourth round of the competition. Having limped off the field that day with his team 2-0 ahead, Brown was found afterwards to have sustained a leg fracture the week before, in a tackle from Hearts' Julien Brellier in the derby at Tynecastle.
The Hibs manager, Tony Mowbray, insisted that Brown's possible participation at Hampden would be limited to an appearance as a substitute, as he is unwilling to risk disrupting the player's recovery through over-exertion.
But it is a measure of the esteem in which Mowbray holds the emergent Scotland midfielder that, circumstances permitting, he is keen to assign him a place on the bench.
"I wouldn't want to rule him in or out today," said Mowbray. "He has just restarted training and we'll see how he progresses. But if he is to be there on Sunday, it will be as a sub at most. You have to remember that Scott had a broken leg and we would not want to endanger his recovery by asking too much of him.
"He has been off work for seven or eight weeks, and that includes training. But there is no doubt that we have missed the driving force he provides from midfield, the way he can carry the ball at pace past opponents.
"Scott is very good for us in every way. He gives this place a lift when he's around. Even knowing he might be an impact player on the bench for us would be a boost for everybody here."
Mowbray has a deep aversion to making injuries an excuse for moderate performances and results, but he does recognise that no team can be without players as influential as Brown and Guillaume Beuzelin for a period of time without being diminished to some extent.
With Garry O'Connor sold to Lokomotiv Moscow and Derek Riordan an absentee on Sunday because of suspension, the Hibs manager will once again be forced to make do and mend in pursuit of a trophy that has eluded the club since 1902.
But he was clearly buoyed by the news yesterday that another two of his promising young players, the full-backs, Steven Whittaker and David Murphy, have signed extensions to their contracts. Whittaker, 21, has agreed a deal that runs until 2011, while Murphy, 22, has pledged himself to the club until 2010.
These are, as Mowbray explained, examples of the club's forward thinking, being seen to be proactive in minimising the possibility of exceptional young players walking away from Easter Road under the Bosman rule.
"We're really pleased," said Mowbray. "If you add them to the extensions recently agreed with Scottie Brown, Kevin Thomson and Ivan Sproule, you'll see that we're putting together the core of a team that's going to take the club forward in years to come.
"We are trying to put an end to players we have developed since they were kids walking away on Bosmans. We are trying to prevent another Ian Murray going to Rangers or Gary Caldwell going to Celtic, although I realise Gary is different, in that he came to us from Newcastle United, as opposed to coming through the ranks.
"But Steven and David are young men and I'm very glad to see they're willing to commit themselves to the club. I've been here nigh on two years now, time enough to see the quality of younger player we have.
"As a manager, your short-term goal is to win matches and, if possible, trophies or places in Europe. But the long-term objective is to secure the futures of exceptional young players, so that you can identify the areas of the squad you're always developing and the areas you'll need to improve.
"If you can keep the quality up, play to a high standard and at the same time get results, you get more people coming to see you. That means more income you can use to help continue the development of young players."
Mowbray, however, is not so naive as to believe that every outstanding player to emerge at Easter Road will remain there for the remainder of his career. The departure of O'Connor is an example of his sympathy for any player who is offered an opportunity to make a potentially life-changing move.
"The more they achieve," he said, "the more they beat Rangers and Celtic or whatever, the more attention they will attract. And we're not here to keep them under lock and key. The point about constantly developing is in seeing where we get the next wave of quality youngsters from when these present fellas' talents outgrow this football club."
Killen vows to play through the pain on Sunday
CHRIS Killen, the New Zealand international, will take a course of pain-killers to ensure he can ease Hibernian's striking crisis for Sunday's Tennent's Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts at Hampden, writes Stephen Halliday.
The 24-year-old was regarded as a major doubt for the tie when he limped out of last Saturday's Premierleague defeat to Inverness with an ankle injury but yesterday he predicted he would be ready to play.
Killen's availability will be a considerable relief for Hibs manager Tony Mowbray whose options up front have been diminished by the sale of Garry O'Connor to Lokomotiv Moscow, while Derek Riordan is suspended and Paul Dalglish cup-tied this weekend.
"When I woke up on Sunday morning, I could hardly walk around my flat and I didn't think I was going to be able to play in the semi-final," admitted Killen, who has scored four goals so far since his move from Oldham Athletic.
"It's a lot better now, though, and I'm hoping to be back in training by the end of the week. It's looking good and I don't want to miss the game. It's going to come down to how sore it is by the weekend, but a few pain-killers will sort it out."