Danny Handling eyes Hibs first-team return in new year

Danny Handling returned to training at the end of last week

Danny Handling returned to training at the end of last week

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Danny Handling has set his sights on ending his 19-month injury hell by making his first-team comeback early in the new year.

The 22-year-old returned to training with Neil Lennon’s squad on Friday and was back out with his team-mates at East Mains yesterday, raising hopes that he’ll be available for the final straight of the club’s bid for the Championship title.

Handling’s misery began in the summer of 2015 when he tore his cruciate ligament during a pre-season friendly against Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park where, in happier times, he had scored seven goals in seven games during a loan spell. The injury was such it required two operations, Handling making a surprise appearance on the Hibs bench for the League Cup final against Ross County in March although a substitute was the closest he got to playing.

However, Handling, who is under contract until the summer of 2018, impressed Lennon sufficiently to be among the substitutes for the Europa League home game against Brondby only to suffer cartilage damage to the same knee in a training session.

The initial prognosis was that he’d be ready to return in September but his rehabilitation has taken longer than expected.

• HIBS’ home clash with Dunfermline on Saturday, February 25 has been moved to a 5.15pm kick-off for live coverage on BBC ALBA.