PAUL KANE believes that Gary Deegan’s return to fitness could prove pivotal for Hibs.
The Easter Road midfielder was out of action for almost ten weeks with a broken jaw before returning to the first team as a substitute last weekend against Motherwell.
He started the Under-20s game against Ross County in midweek and is now in contention for a more substantial role in the senior side this Saturday when Hibs travel to Kilmarnock.
Kane, himself a former Hibs midfielder, is delighted that Deegan, who had proven a valuable asset in both skill and physicality since his arrival from Coventry City in the summer, is back in the fold.
Having seen his old side lose their last two matches against Well and Inverness, Kane reckons that Deegan can bring back a real edge to the midfield again.
Kane said: “I think that, up until the last few weeks, no-one could have said that the team weren’t doing well without him, but, for me, now is the time to bring him back.
“The way that the last couple of results have gone, I think that we really need him back in the side again. When he first arrived at the club he made a big impact and the fans took to him straight away because he did bring something different, he was physical and strong but he also pushed forward and supported the strikers well.”
In contrast to last season, Kane has been delighted to see an added grit and determination in the Hibs side.
One of the main reasons Fenlon brought Deegan to Edinburgh was to add some steel to their capabilities in the middle of the park and Kane would love to see him given the nod from the start at Rugby Park this weekend.
“Last season you could probably say that the midfield was a bit soft-centred,” he continued. “Now, that has not been the case this season – until the last fortnight or so.
“One of the main reasons that Deegan was brought to the club was to add some steel to the midfield.
“That has been missing recently and that is why I think that Pat Fenlon will put him into his team for this weekend’s game.
“He doesn’t want to see the same thing happen as last year and the midfield has been one of the strongest areas of our team this season.
“I know that he has been out for a long time but I think that you are always better using players from the start and giving them a real chance to have an effect, rather than bringing them on for ten or 15 minutes towards the end.”
In Deegan’s enforced absence, Tom Taiwo has been utilised in the middle of the park more often and Kane feels that the former Carlisle man has done a decent job.
“Tom has done well but I think he is a very similar player to Jorge Claros. They are both deep players, when they get the ball they make short passes – long passing is not really in their game.
“They don’t really get forward to help the strikers as much as someone like Deegan.
“The two of them like to get on the ball and lead their defence from midfield.
“For me, one of them plus Gary Deegan would be the ideal combination from the midfield area.”
James McPake will miss out through suspension, so Ryan McGivern will likely move back into the centre of defence, a position that he filled regularly while the Hibs skipper was out with a back spasm. Thus Kane thinks that some of the younger generation may get their chance.
He continued: “Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling have been doing well recently and it could be that they get their chance at some point this weekend. I think Lewis Stevenson was maybe a bit unlucky to miss out last weekend but it’s a manager’s job to make these kind of choices and that’s just what happens when you are part of a successful side.”
With Deegan back to fitness, McPake sitting out just one game and Tim Clancy close to a return, there will be increased competition for places in the Hibs side in the coming weeks.
That can only be good for Hibs, Kane adding: “With the players coming back from injury and suspension, there will be a lot more competition for places.
“That will give Pat lot of options and he will be able to more or less do what he wants when he has a full squad.”