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Michael Smith feared he would never play football again three months ago but the Hearts defender is now targeting a place in their Scottish Cup final team.

The Northern Ireland international made his first appearance in three months when he came off the bench at Motherwell on Wednesday after recovering from a back problem.

Smith is now set to face Rangers in the league on Saturday to continue his comeback ahead of a Hampden rematch seven days later.

When asked if he feared the cup final might have been beyond him, the 33-year-old said: “I had doubts beyond that, I thought maybe I might not even play again.

“It was a frustrating injury. I trained on Friday and went to take my son to a trampoline park. I tried to stand up afterwards but my legs were just in agony. I could hardly walk. My son was like ‘what’s up with you?’ and I said ‘I’m near dead here’.

“I’ve had back problems for about 10 years now and eventually it caught up with me and it gave way.

“I got a scan and one of the discs had exploded into the nerve canal. It was just a mess in there.

“It was close to having to have an operation which would have kept me out for longer. Thankfully, I recovered well.”

Smith added: “It’s been tough. It was a weird injury because I couldn’t do anything about it in the gym, it was just about trying to recover.

“I finally got the green light from the specialist to start playing again so that was nice. I can now look forward to the final.”