Hibs boss Neil Lennon has revealed Jordon Forster could be out of action for up to six weeks, sparking fears of a defensive crisis ahead of next week’s Scottish Cup replay with arch-rivals Hearts.
Forster suffered a hamstring problem and was forced to limp off nine minutes into the second half of the fifth-round tie at Tynecastle – which ended in a no-scoring draw – to be replaced by Liam Fontaine.
But, with Paul Hanlon recovering from an operation designed to cure the pelvic problem which has troubled in him recent weeks, Lennon could be left with only two central defenders, Fontaine and Darren McGregor, for both this weekend’s Championship match away to Raith Rovers and the visit of Hearts a week on Wednesday.
Lennon’s assistant Gary Parker has expressed hope that Hanlon may be fit enough to return for the trip to Stark’s Park for what will be former Hibs manager John Hughes’ first game in charge of Raith, a fixture which offers Lennon’s players the chance to extend their six-point lead at the top of the Championship table.
However, Hanlon hasn’t played since the 3-0 demoliton of Dundee United on January 6, the 27-year-old having initially been given a cortisone injection in the hope that would avoid surgery only for it to fail, leaving an operation as the only option. Given that backdrop, Lennon could well opt for McGregor and Fontaine as his starting central defensive partnership with Hanlon taking a seat on the bench in case of emergency, robbing the Hibs manager of the choice of fielding a back three as he has done on a number of occasions this season.
Lennon said: “Jordon picked up a knock. It’s a hamstring and it’s looking like four to six weeks out. I’m hoping it’s not going to be that bad, maybe a strain. But hamstrings are pretty delicate injuries.” Meanwhile, Lennon has claimed his players will go into next Wednesday’s replay enjoying a shift in the derby-day psyche.
Hibs haven’t lost in their last six encounters with Hearts, leading Lennon to say: “There was nothing between the sides. We were playing away and the players really enjoyed the environment. You can see a psychological shift between the two clubs. Hibs are strong now. Hearts are strong and, in years gone by, they were the dominant team – that’s not the case any more.”