Hearts forward Barrie McKay is braced for the likelihood that it will take him some time to get back to his best as he tries to regain his sharpness following an injury-disrupted start to the season.
Having missed the start of the campaign following ankle surgery in the summer, the 28-year-old was able to make only three appearances before sustaining a knee injury in the Europa Conference League defeat at home to PAOK in late August.
After more than three months on the sidelines, McKay returned to action as an 85th-minute substitute in Wednesday’s cinch Premiership loss to Rangers.
The Jambos playmaker is likely to be in the squad for Saturday’s trip to struggling Aberdeen, but he admits he is probably not ready to be firing on all cylinders just yet.
Asked if he felt ready to start, McKay said: “I don’t know. I’ve trained quite a bit but I still need to build it up.
“It’s probably a time where the squad’s healthy and doesn’t have as many injuries as we’ve had in the past so there’s a chance I could probably build up gradually, but if the manager feels that I’m ready to start, that’s his call.
“I’ve missed five or six months (including the previous injury) so it’s going to take a little while to get my full match fitness. I’ve been trying to get my sharpness back as much as I can in training and I feel each day it’s starting to come back slowly but surely.”
McKay was a regular starter throughout his first two seasons at Hearts so has found his time on the sidelines mentally challenging.
“It’s been tough because you work all week to be out there on the pitch and since I came here this is the first time I’ve experienced not being fit,” he said. “It’s definitely a different experience to what I’ve had the previous few years.
“It’s been great to be back out on the training pitch with the lads and then to be back in a squad and get back on the pitch for a couple of minutes.”
McKay has returned to contention at a time when Hearts have found some form following an inconsistent start to the campaign.
Prior to Wednesday’s defeat they had won four matches on the spin to climb to third place and they head to Aberdeen in optimistic mood having already won four of their seven away matches this term.
“We had won four in a row before the disappointing result on Wednesday but we’ve got something to build on,” said McKay. “We’ve done well defensively and we’re still getting goals. All people want is to win games of football.
“We’ve got confidence now that we can go away from home and win. That was probably what counted against us last year but we’ve kind of corrected that a bit this year so hopefully we can keep that up and get on another winning run.”
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