STEVEN FLETCHER today revealed how he believed a broken leg had brought his season to an end as he crumpled to the Easter Road turf in agony.
The Hibs striker "feared the worst" following a lunge from Hamilton's David Elebert as his left leg went numb, his concern shared by his team-mates who had looked on in horror.
The signs didn't look good as a stretcher was called to transport him to the dressing room, the offer waved away by Fletcher who was determined to make the journey from the far side of the ground on his own two feet.
He didn't make it, however, with Hibs physio Colin McLelland and a paramedic speeding him on his way as they carried him round the touchline.
Thankfully, however, the 21-year-old's injury proved to be no more than a heavy but painful knock on his unprotected shin and now Fletcher is back training looking forward to tomorrow's SPL clash of the day as Hibs take on Rangers at Ibrox.
Speaking for the first time of his moment of horror, Fletcher said: "It was a bit of a fright, just the impact at the time.
"I feared the worst, a broken leg. I've taken plenty of kicks on my shin before but not like this, it just went numb. I'd gone in for a tackle just before this one and my shin guard was misplaced so, when I went for the ball again, I had no protection.
"I think I was just a bit unlucky, the Hamilton guy tried to nick the ball but I played it just before him. There's no hard feelings."
While McClelland was able to quickly reassure Fletcher there was no break, onlooking Hibs fans were, of course, left to guess for themselves the extent of the injury, the arrival of a stretcher only enforcing the belief the in-demand hitman was in serious trouble.
Fletcher said: "It was a great relief when Colin was able to tell me there was no break. I didn't want to be stretchered off, I was happy to walk round the pitch. But I was moving slowly and they wanted to get me back into treatment room more quickly so I ended up being carried."
Although still feeling a touch tender, Fletcher resumed training in midweek and is now raring to go at Ibrox with Hibs aiming to stretch their unbeaten run of matches to six.
He said: "In my first training session my shin was still a bit tender but as I got going it wore off and now I'm hoping I'm back in the running for tomorrow.
"It's a big game and one we are all looking forward to.
"We had a bit of shaky run but now we've gone five unbeaten so while it will be tough as always at Ibrox, we are going into the game full of confidence."
As Fletcher lay in the treatment room his team-mates were notching up a 2-0 win over Accies with goals from his replacement Derek Riordan and skipper Rob Jones to add to the previous week's victory over Celtic, a result which many saw as helping re-ignite the SPL title race. Even so, Rangers find themselves in the situation of playing catch-up with their Old Firm rivals, a situation which puts the onus more than ever on Walter Smith's players to win, particularly at home.
But while predicting an onslaught, Fletcher believes Hibs have shown over the past two matches the potent threat they carry on the counter-attack, citing their second goal against Celtic and the first against Accies as good examples.
Admitting Hibs' opening goal against Celtic – John Rankin's now famous "squiggler" – was something of a fluke, Fletcher insisted he and his team-mates weren't given enough credit for the second, Colin Nish knocking the ball home after a fast-flowing move involving the striker, Fletcher, Alan O'Brien and Rankin which had exposed the visiting defence.
And, having netted from close range against Aberdeen, Hearts and Celtic in recent weeks, Fletcher, renowned for scoring spectacular goals, admitted he's looking to get as many as he can from inside the six-yard box.
He said: "It's nice to get a 30-yarder every once in a while but tap-ins are the sort you want every week. We've talked about them in training, we want to get as many goals as we can.
"Our second against Celtic was the result of a great move and so was the first against Hamilton, Ian Murray breaking up an attack and then matching Steven Thicot's run to be in the right place to play the ball in for Derek to score from a few yards out."
Riordan's strike hauled him level with Fletcher and Nish on six goals at the top of Hibs' scoring chart but the Easter Road star knows that in Kris Boyd – with an astonishing 17 strikes already this season – and former Hibee Kenny Miller, Rangers will pose their own threat.
He said: "There's going to be plenty of goalscorers on the park so there should be goals.
"Rob Jones has added a couple for us recently and he was playing up front in training the other day as he likes to do, so I'm sure he'll be looking to get his head on the end of another one.
"Having said that, of course, we'll probably end up with a no-scoring draw!"
Such an outcome would be more damaging to Rangers and their title aspirations than to Hibs' intended aim of qualifying for Europe but, with Hearts and Dundee United clashing at Tynecastle, Fletcher admitted he'd love to be in a position to take advantage of however tomorrow's match at Tynecastle finishes. The victories over Celtic and Hamilton have helped fifth-placed Hibs close the gap on those two sides, leaving Fletcher to hope he and his team-mates can whittle down their advantage once again. Insisting the heat is on Rangers, he said: "I think the pressure is always on you to get the three points when you are at home. Rangers need to get as many points as possible with Celtic ahead of them and they do have a decent record at Ibrox.
"But we are on this unbeaten run and we want to see it continue. The league is so tight at the moment that a couple of wins, as we have seen, can send you up a few places but a defeat means you drop down.
"Hearts and Dundee United are on good runs but something has to give there tomorrow so, hopefully, we can find ourselves able to close up again on one or other – or even both."