Striker Christian Doidge left with catching up to do as Hibs look to burst out of Premiership blocks
As Hibs were working on welcoming fans back into the ground for the new season, striker Christian Doidge was being shut out.
One of the Hibs players who tested positive for covid soon after reporting back from his summer break, it proved more than an inconvenience as the Welshman was forced to self-isolate while he battled to overcome the detrimental impact it had on his health and contend with the frustrating set-back to his preparations for the new campaign.
Testing negative when he reported back for pre-season training with the rest of the Easter Road squad, there was bad news just a day or two into the hard graft.
“It was extremely frustrating. I caught it the first day of pre-season, which was not good timing at all,” explained the striker. “Over the summer you start doing your running and it was for nothing. I have had to work really hard in the last two weeks on my fitness.”
Few players relish pre-season training but even fewer enjoy missing it and having to do the catch up work on their own.
But, having missed out on the early friendlies, the 28 year old says he is battling back, adding to the five-minute cameo appearance in the first leg of the Conference League qualifying tussle with Santa Coloma by playing the final 30 minutes of the return leg, in Andorra.
“I feel good. They have been taking it slowly with me after getting covid and I need to catch up with the lads but I got a few minutes. After missing the majority of pre-season that was brilliant and getting through to the next round is great for the football club.
“I feel good. In all fairness the medical team were really good with me the first couple of days I was back, building it up until I finally got to max heart rate, and I am getting close to full fitness now.
“But I was struggling for a while. I was watching the lads train when they were in Manchester. I was in bed, and couldn’t get out of it, and I was feeling terrible, knowing I would have all that running to come. That was hard but I am really happy to be back and looking forward to Sunday.
“I felt really good out there compared to the first leg where I probably didn’t touch the ball in four minutes. I am feeling more like myself and hopefully can push to get more minutes on Sunday.”
Today they travel to Fir Park and while Doidge has been denied the chance to hit the ground running, he is hoping he can still play a part as the rest of the team get out the blocks strongly against Motherwell and lay down a marker for the new term and build on last season’s third-placed league finish.
“For us to get third is definitely our aim and you never know, football can be crazy, maybe nick into second.
“Listen we are going to focus on third again because that was a great achievement for the football club and something we had not done in a long time. That is definitely our target. Last year we set out our targets to get third and get to a cup final and we obviously came up short in the final itself but in terms of league performances I thought we were outstanding and in getting third we broke our away record of points picked up.”
But the success of last season leaves them with a target on their back, which is acknowledged by manager Jack Ross.
“I think it goes with the territory but I would much prefer to have it that way. I don’t think we shy away from it,” said the Hibs manager.
“I know there will be a number of teams who will look at what we achieved last year and will have aspirations to do that themselves this time. I know that because we were in that boat at the start of last season – we looked at the team who had finished third and the highly competitive nature of this league means you are never far away from somebody wanting to do that to you. I welcome it, I think it is good for the players to deal with that aspiration as well but it is about standing up and producing under that kind of increased pressure, if you will.”
Much of that comes from a winning mentality, where muscle memory takes the best players through games when form dips.
Good pre-season results and a victorious start to their European test will help.
“We understand we need to be better than we were on Thursday because we will be playing against a better team but we also need to go in with the belief that we were the third best team in the country for a reason last year,” continued the Hibs gaffer.
“We need to carry that belief into Sunday’s game but, yeah, we are determined to start the season in the manner we did last year.
“Our form in the opening games was really good and the results were good and it does undoubtedly give you a platform to have a good season.”
This time last year they went on a run that included just two defeats in their opening dozen Premiership games and it gave them something to build on.
“It does help if you have any dips. We had a couple of blips through the season and that start enabled us to stay in the top four so we want to do that again.
“I think last season helped in terms of players not wanting to rush away from the club because they were part of something which in the main was pretty good.
“We are back in European football and aiming to stay there season after season is a big thing.”
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