Hibs boss Pat Fenlon hopes Paul Hanlon will be back for the Easter Road outfit’s final assault on a top six finish.
Hanlon has missed Hibs’ last three SPL matches and the William Hill Scottish Cup win over Kilmarnock with a hip injury as the race to claim a place in the top half of the table goes down to the wire with the Capital club, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock all chasing that coveted spot.
Allied to the absence of Tim Clancy, having Hanlon also sidelined has severely restricted Fenlon’s defensive options in recent weeks although right back Clancy has now returned to training with his team-mates and now the Hibs manager has his fingers crossed the central defender will be back in action before the split.
The former Scotland Under-21 captain was ordered to rest for a further ten days when he consulted a specialist last week and the fact there are no SPL matches this weekend as attention again turns to World Cup qualifying should work in his favour.
Although Hibs were crushed 4-1 by Motherwell on Friday night, both Aberdeen and United failed to take advantage of that defeat, the Dons themselves losing 4-3 to Celtic despite leading 3-1 with just a quarter of the game to go while the Tannadice club only managed a 1-1 draw with ten-man Dundee in the Tayside derby.
As such Aberdeen remain two points behind Hibs as do Kilmarnock – although they have a match in hand against Scottish Communities League Cup winners St Mirren on the others – while United trail Fenlon’s side only on goal difference.
While admitting Hibs, who at one time occupied second place and even briefly flirted with the top spot itself, were “definitely making it difficult” for themselves, Fenlon, nonetheless, believes his side still “have an opportunity” to make top six although they arguably face the most daunting run-in of all the clubs involved in the chase.
Scotland boss Gordon Strachan may have overlooked Hibs’ top scorer Leigh Griffiths for the World Cup double-header against Wales and Serbia, but Ryan McGivern has been named in Northern Ireland’s squad for their games with Russia and Israel and Jorge Claros has travelled back to Central America as Honduras prepare to take on Mexico.