HIBS head coach Alan Stubbs today moved to allay fears that Paul Hanlon has suffered a recurrence of the knee injury that forced him to sit out the final ten matches of last season.
Hanlon required cartilage surgery after picking up the injury in mid-March and was left to watch on helplessly as the Easter Road side slid down the Premiership table and into a relegation play-off with Hamilton which they lost.
The defender, 24, returned to the heart of Hibs’ defence for the opening two games of the season, but missed the first Edinburgh derby of the season after suffering a problem in the same knee.
However, Stubbs revealed that a scan had shown the latest injury was “nothing too serious” and was totally unrelated. “It’s nothing to do with the operation,” said Stubbs. “It’s completely separate, not a recurrence of the old injury and it’s really about when Paul feels ready to come back in.”
Stubbs admitted, however, that the former Scotland Under-21 captain is unlikely to play against Falkirk tomorrow, adding to his selection problems with Scott Robertson and Lewis Stevenson suspended, the midfielder sent off after picking up two yellow cards against Hearts, while the left-back decided not to contest a two-game ban following his bust-up with Jambos winger Jamie Walker, who suffered a similar punishment.
Having also had Danny Handling sent off in the Petrofac Training Cup clash with Rangers, Stubbs revealed he had spoken to his players about their discipline, given he’s working with a small squad this season, to remind them the club can’t afford “stupid, silly and unnecessary” suspensions.
Admitting Stevenson was the last player he thought would get himself into such bother, Stubbs said: “Lewis obviously regrets it and is sorry for what he did. At the end of the game, when you can see it is probably slipping away you just get involved in pernickety, silly little challenges.
“We are all human, it can affect anyone but I spoke to them afterwards and during the week about their discipline, about controlling their emotions. It’s something we have to do because we are not going to have a squad of 25 or 26 players so we need to make sure that we manage the group we have well and do not pick up stupid, silly and unnecessary suspensions when there’s no need to do that.”
And Stubbs warned both Robertson and Stevenson that as small as his squad may be, they could well have put their first team places in jeopardy.
He said: “They have to realise it gives an opportunity to someone else. They’ve got themselves sent off, they’ve placed themselves in the position they are in and if the lads who come in do really well it’s then difficult for me to leave them out of the team.”
Stubbs believed Stevenson’s indiscretion was so obvious – the SFA charge was one of “serious foul play” by stamping or attempting to stamp on Walker – there was no merit in appealing the ban. He said: “It was there for everyone to see. You sometimes have to take your punishment and move on.”
Meanwhile, Stubbs has praised the professionalism of defender Michael Nelson, drafted in to replace Hanlon for the derby only days after the 34-year-old was told he can leave if he can find another club as he’s not guaranteed a first team place.
He said: “I thought ‘Nels’ did great last weekend. I thought he and Jordon Forster marshalled their strikeforce really well, it was the quietest I’ve seen them. But it didn’t surprise me because he’s a top pro, a top bloke.”
However, Stubbs insisted Nelson’s performance at Tynecastle hadn’t changed the situation. He added: “I told him that unfortunately I couldn’t guarantee him a starting place and at his age he needs to be playing as much as he can.”