BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs insists Farid El Alagui is finding full fitness at the perfect time after manfully emerging from almost two years of injury hell.
The 31-year-old has seen his Easter Road career devastated by a ruptured Achilles in August 2014, mere months after joining the club. An operation to remove a surgical pin then saw him sidelined for much of this campaign.
However, the French-Moroccan front-man has shown signs of a timely return to his best, scoring two goals in his last three outings after his sharp finish to rescue a 2-2 draw against St Mirren on Saturday.
Stubbs admits it has been a testing task to build El Alagui back to full fitness, noting he “doesn’t have Superman calves at the best of times”, but he believes the striker could be Kryptonite to Hibs’ rivals as they chase Championship and Scottish Cup success.
He said: “In the early part he was quite a bit off it and he needed to get to the strength back up in his calves and his quads to give him that power.
“He had such a horrendous injury that when he recovered everybody thought he was ready but wasn’t. It takes a while to get sharpness and confidence.
“He doesn’t have Superman calves at the best of times! We’ve had to do tests with him to see how much he was lacking in terms of strength so it’s been a long process.
“But thankfully he’s getting to a stage now where he could start again. Farid gives us something different. He has a physical element and we can look to get the ball forward rather than pass and create that goal that’s pleasing on the eye.
“He offers a different element to our game and it’s something that could come in very useful for us between now and end of the season. We have thought about pairing Jason [Cummings] with Farid.”
With El Alagui pushing for a starting place against Livi this evening, Stubbs has a selection headache after also lauding the recent performances of Anthony Stokes, who has bagged three goals in his last four matches.
However, it is the welcome resurgence of Jason Cummings which has arguably given the Hibs gaffer the most cause for cheer as the Hibees aim to cut the gap to second-placed Falkirk to six points.
The youngster endured six games without a goal prior to bagging a brace for Scotland under-21s against Northern Ireland last week, He followed that up by finding the net against the Buddies.
And Stubbs admits the colourful front-man endured a steep learning curve during a rare dry spell.
He continued: “With Jason, we have to remember he is a young, talented player. This is probably the first time in his life that he’s had a run of games where things haven’t fallen for him.
“That’s where we have to help him. That probably makes Jason realise that it won’t all just happen naturally. You have to keep working hard for the team.
“We know he’ll score goals, that’s a given with Jason. But the most important thing is that he performs and has a contribution to the team.”
Meanwhile, new international star John McGinn believes his Scotland recognition will benefit Hibs as the capital club face a season-defining fortnight.
McGinn, 21, won man of the match on his full debut for the national side after turning in an all-action display in the 1-0 win over Denmark at Hampden. He followed that up with an assist in the 2-2 draw against his former club St Mirren on Saturday.
And McGinn admits he has returned to club duty in buoyant mood – in perfect time for a hectic period which includes a Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United and a Championship clash with rivals for second-spot Falkirk.
HE said: “The Scotland game was a massive boost for me. It was great for me to learn as a player, to see what it takes to be an international footballer player and it just makes me hungry for more.
“There was a spring in my step going into training and the game on Saturday and we were a lot better in spells against St Mirren, but we need to get back to winning ways, starting with Livingston.”