Fifteen months of injury hell later, Farid El Alagui was back at the scene of his blackest moment. His manager asked him if he was ready and there was no hesitation, no nerves. “When you fall off your bike you just have to get back on again,” explained the Hibernian striker.
The big story from this win, once news had come through of Rangers dropping two points at Livingston, was of Hibs joining the Ibrox club at the top of the Championship – but there was no little drama in the return of the French-born Moroccan striker to Alloa, especially for those fans who saw him collapse in a heap on the artificial surface last August.
El Alagui suffered a ruptured achilles tendon and, although there was a brief return to first-team action towards the end of the campaign, he was soon back on the treatment-table. Since then he has watched from the sidelines as the team have gone unbeaten in 15 games with the strikers scoring for fun. There was a lot of catching up to do.
He agreed with Alan Stubbs that he was “exorcising demons” by stepping back on to the plastic. “The gaffer had a chat with me before the game, just asking if I was all right. This is where I was injured but it was good to come off the bench and help the team. We won, so happy days.
“Returning here I did have a bad memory straight away but it didn’t last. Maybe I thought about what happened for one or two minutes but, warming up, and then getting my chance I forgot about it.”
With Jason Cummings, who scored the winner on the hour, and James Keatings in such good form, El Alagui admitted he couldn’t afford to hang about. “I didn’t have any doubts about going on – no chance. When you work hard to come back from a bad injury after a long time then anywhere in the world, when a footballer gets his chance again, he says yes, no problem.
“I had to say that because, at Hibs, these guys are scoring lots of goals so I’ve got to try and catch them up. They’ve made it hard for me coming back so now I have to try and keep them on their toes and push them as much as I can.
El Alagui didn’t skip around the fringes of the action. He was on the receiving end of the tackle which reduced Alloa – gutsy enough but unable to test Mark Oxley in the Hibs goal – to ten men when Dougie Hill received his second yellow card. “The game wasn’t decided. Every time the ball came to me I was trying to give the boys a breather,” the frontman said. “It’s not pretty to come here but this win shows how strong we are. We knew the game was going to be tough and we managed to win it in a kind of dirty way.
“Last season we might have drawn or even lost and the gaffer told us in the changing-room this had been one of our most important wins.”
It is certainly the one which enables Hibs to clamber to the summit next to Rangers, a team who threatened to go 11 points clear just a few weeks ago. El Alagui added: “If I was a Rangers player I’d be looking back in the wing-mirror and saying, ‘Yeah, Hibs are here with us’. It’s no longer just about them going on to the pitch and winning the games. When we beat them it was a massive message to them to say we’re ready to fight. It’s going to be really exciting until the end of the season.”