Jackie McNamara believes Hibs are heading back to the Premiership with their best array of centre-backs in recent memory after the club last night confirmed the signing of Efe Ambrose on a two-year deal.
The 28-year-old Nigerian enjoyed a fruitful two-month loan stint at Easter Road at the end of last season and, after his five-year stay at Celtic ended last week, he has been recruited by head coach Neil Lennon on a contract until summer 2019 in a move widely viewed as a coup. In addition, Scottish Cup-winning pair Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine, who have been mainstays of the team in recent seasons, both agreed new deals to stay on at the club last month, while highly-regarded homegrown duo Paul Hanlon and Jordon Forster also remain in place.
“I can’t remember us being this strong at the back,” said McNamara, a Hibs supporter and a defender for the club between 1976 and 1985. “We’ve had good defenders like big Rob Jones and people like that, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a batch of five centre-backs of such a good quality.
“Hibs have been seen as a soft touch at the back for a long time, but you couldn’t say that about this group. We’ve certainly not got much to worry about at the back now. We’ve also got a lot of experience there, which should stand us in good stead. I’m delighted with the backbone of the team, and the back-up.”
McNamara believes Lennon will be spoilt for choice in central defence, although he feels that McGregor, who has been a standout since joining from Rangers two years ago, should be the first name on the team sheet.
“It’s Neil’s problem to pick who he thinks is the best,” said McNamara. “But he’s not going to have a major problem if one gets injured because he’s got others of a similar quality who can step in. The five of them are all smashing players.
“Getting Efe signed is a great piece of business because it raises the bar. He was different class for us at the end of last season. He strolled every game he played, and the crowd took to him straight away. Then you’ve got Hanlon, who has come on a ton in the last few seasons. He looks stronger and more dominant. Fontaine’s played in the English Championship for years and has been a regular for Hibs – he’s a class act. And Forster’s come in and done well whenever he’s been called upon. But for me, it would be Darren McGregor alongside one or two of the others. I just love that boy – he’s outstanding, one of my favourite players. He’d never be out of my team if he was fit.
“It’ll be difficult for Neil to keep them all happy. If I was one of those centre-backs and I wasn’t playing, I wouldn’t be happy but I’d be trying to prove why I should be in the team. It’s a good position for Hibs to be in because every one of them is a quality player.”