Neil Lennon admits today’s Scottish Cup semi-final showdown with Aberdeen is an acid test of Hibs’ ability to compete at the top end of the Premiership next season.
The Easter Road side head to Hampden on the back of winning promotion from the Championship last weekend. Lennon has lofty aspirations for next season and he believes today’s match against a side currently nine points clear in second place in the top flight will give him an idea of how well equipped his team are at present.
“It is an acid test for the players,” he said. “They will be playing against the team second in the table, who are well clear of Rangers and that takes a bit of doing. They have split the Old Firm and that takes a bit of doing and they have already been to one final this season so that is impressive. “I think they have improved year on year under Derek [McInnes] and they have been really consistent so it is a really good test for us.”
Lennon is already confident about the ability of his team to compete with the likes of Aberdeen, Rangers, Hearts and St Johnstone next season, although he is keen to add reinforcements. Saints midfielder Danny Swanson has agreed a pre-contract with the Easter Road club, who have also been linked with Piotr Parzyszek, the Polish striker who has scored 25 goals this season for Dutch second-tier side De Graafschap. “I think we can challenge [next season], yeah, but I would like to do a bit of additional work to the squad,” he said.
“I think I have a good core of players I am really happy with and who could comfortably deal with the Premiership and the majority of the teams they will come up against. But I think there are one or two areas where I need to get better quality in if we are going to be consistent at that level next year.”
Having been favourites for all of their league matches this season, Lennon is content for his side to be cast as underdogs as they continue their defence of the Scottish Cup today.
“We have had that [being favourites] all season and I had it all my career at Celtic so it is difficult,” he said.
“To be fair to Aberdeen, they have handled the games pretty well this season except when they have been underdogs against Celtic, who are different class at the minute. But Aberdeen are favourites and their fans will be expecting to get to the final against a championship team, although we are not a championship team any more, and we know we are going into the game as underdogs.
“That will be a novelty for us this year.
“It takes two teams to make a game and the majority of the time, when people have been saying ‘it’s not a great game to watch’ we have been the ones doing all the pressing and trying to win the game while other teams have been trying to be hard to beat.
“The teams we have gone up against find it difficult because we have players who can hurt them. I hope it is going to be an open game because that will suit us as much as it will suit Aberdeen.”
Hibs will again be without injured centre-backs Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine, but winger Chris Humphrey is back in contention after a two-month lay-off.