Neil Lennon today insisted Efe Ambrose would walk into any team in Scotland – bar Celtic – claiming he’s one of the best players Hibs have had for “quite a considerable time”.
The Easter Road boss snapped up the Nigerian internationalist on an emergency loan until the end of the season to overcome a defensive crisis and was adamant he hasn’t been disappointed by the 28-year-old’s performances for the Capital club.
Speaking as Ambrose picked up the Ladbrokes Championship player of the month award for March, Lennon believes the move to Edinburgh has allowed a player he regards as having been turned into something of a scapegoat at Celtic Park to “showcase his talent”.
Although he found himself frozen out by new Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers – his last appearance for the Hoops was in a Champions League qualifying match against Astana in Kazakhstan in July – Ambrose has been an ever-present at Hibs, vindicating Lennon’s faith in a player he signed when manager of the Glasgow outfit.
Lennon, whose team aim to beat Queen of the South tomorrow and potentially spark a title party at Easter Road, said: “I think Efe is probably one of the best players Hibs have seen here for quite a considerable time. I think the Hibs fans appreciate the quality of player he is. I’m glad he has been able to showcase the talent that we all knew he had.
“He has been through the ringer. Sometimes players at clubs can be made a scapegoat and Efe certainly came into that bracket, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad player.
“It’s no disgrace not to get into that Celtic team at the moment. They are setting the bar really high. He has come to Hibs and done exactly what I thought he would do.”
Lennon firmly believes Ambrose has the mentality to deal with all the negativity which has come in his direction and, he claimed, he wouldn’t be surprised if the player returned to Celtic to try to force his way back into the team next season.
Asked if he thought it was good for Ambrose to get away from his critics at Celtic, Lennon said: “I think he’s the kind of player that would have played through it and come out the other side if he had the opportunity to do that.
“Obviously, Brendan has his own ideas. He’s got good centre-halves in there. If Efe doesn’t get a move, I’m sure he will try to force his way back into the team at Celtic. He’s got the strength of character to do that.
“I don’t think he ever lacked confidence in his own ability. Not in a arrogant sort of way. He just liked the thought of proving people wrong. And he’s done that. Efe could walk into any other team in Scotland. Any other team.
“This has been an important move for him in terms of his own profile, his reputation and his future. I think he has handled it very well. The fans here really appreciate what he’s done for the club as well. I think they are enjoying him being here and enjoying watching him play. I know I am.”