Hibs’ Farid El Alagui back in the nick of time

Farid El Alagui scored in the first derby of the season. Today, he wants one in a Hibs win. Picture: SNS
Farid El Alagui scored in the first derby of the season. Today, he wants one in a Hibs win. Picture: SNS
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New op gets El Alagui fit again ahead of play-offs, writes Moira Gordon

FROM the minute Farid El Alagui met with the doctors back in August, the Hibernian striker has had one eye on the play-offs. Aware that the swell of contenders for the Championship title could leave the Easter Road side engaged in a do-or-die battle for promotion, he wanted to make sure he was back, fit and ready to contribute.

‘Instead of being out for ten to 12 months, it’s more like six months’

A ruptured Achilles tendon in a match against Alloa forced him onto the sidelines and meant he was unable to help put up a fight for the league trophy, but he made a choice that he hopes could still enable him to make a significant impact on the season.

“When I first got injured, I talked to the surgeon, the physio and the medical staff and we were talking about a four to six-month recovery. I looked at the schedules and I was thinking about the play-offs, trying to make sure I was back for such an important part of the season.”

To have the chance of getting back so quickly, the French-born Morrocan had to take a punt on a relatively-new procedure, though.

“The surgery was different than a normal procedure. It was an internal brace. The Achilles tore away and they knotted around it. That’s a big difference which allowed me to get into my rehab sooner and do things earlier than I would normally.

“The surgeon was Professor [Gordon] Mackay at the Ross Hall hospital in Glasgow. There aren’t so many who do this type of surgery in the UK. I think he is the first one, so I am quite lucky. He showed me the two programmes – mine and the normal procedure. Everything you do with mine is maybe two months ahead. You cannot normally put any weight on the foot for a month, but I could do that after a week.

“The internal brace makes it stronger so that’s a big thing – instead of being out for between ten and 12 months it’s more like six months. I got injured on the Saturday and met him on the Monday. I realised it was the right thing to do straight away. I could have asked for another opinion, but I didn’t feel the need for that. It made sense and he had already done work with a British bobsleigh athlete and there was good feedback from that. I didn’t speak to the bobsleigh athlete, but I did read a few internet articles on him and how happy he was to come back so quick. That gave me a bit more confidence.”

The return to the first-team fold is timely. Before his injury, the former Falkirk and Brentford striker had got off to an encouraging start, with four goals in his first five competitive matches for Hibs, including a goal in the first derby of the season. It wasn’t enough to supply the Leith side with even a point that day, but now that he is back, he is hoping he can make a more meaningful contribution at Easter Road today when Hearts visit for the final derby of the campaign.

“The goal in the derby, we lost 2-1, so you don’t celebrate as you would if you win,” he said. “It’s not the same feeling. I was unhappy with the result. We will see on Sunday, it will be a different game. We need the points. We’ve lost three of our last four games and we can’t afford to lose any more.”

The win over Dumbarton in midweek took Alan Stubbs’ men back into second place on goal difference, ahead of Rangers, who have a game in hand. But, with Queen of the South just five points behind in fourth place and Falkirk still looking to replace one of the three teams above them, there is little margin for error.

But the Hibs manager hopes that the improving match fitness of his summer signing will give him more flexibility in the quest for goals and could help swing things in his side’s favour.

“It’s difficult to say how much we’ve missed him,” said Stubbs. “He was obviously doing well at the time [he sustained the injury]. It was a big blow for the team. He gives us something that we’ve not necessarily got with Dominique [Malonga] and Jason [Cummings], or JJ [Franck Dja Djedje].

“He gives us a physical element up there. He can knock defences about and be a nuisance. If the ball is going up there in the air, there’s every chance that’s he’s going to win it. When you have that, it gives the back four he’s up against something different to think about, where we get a flick on and suddenly we’re in. Dominique and Jason are not necessarily the strongest in the air.”

But finding a way to win is something his men need to do as the season reaches its conclusion, and, while the focus is on individuals like El Alagui, they need to find a way to do it as a unit. It’s something that today’s opponents, Hearts, have been able to do throughout the campaign, allowing them to canter to the title.

“They are rightly deserved champions – I don’t think anyone could deny that – but I don’t think the teams behind them have done enough when it’s mattered,” Stubbs added. “That’s why they’ve been able to get away from everybody. They’ve been very efficient. When they’ve not played well they’ve always found a way to win. When you do that and you’re doing it week in, week out, it puts a lot of pressure on the teams behind. That’s what they’ve done and they have to be commended for that. They’ve got a group of players that have chipped in goals from all over and they haven’t conceded much. One of the biggest things is that they work very hard as a team – they’ve not just got individuals.”

As a team Hibs have to learn from that and find a way to combat that Hearts threat. A timely goal from El Alagui could help.