Experienced duo can '˜help Cummings become even better'
Neil Lennon believes playing alongside Scott McDonald and Grant Holt would help Jason Cummings become a top-class striker.
The Hibs boss is in talks with both Australian internationalist McDonald and his former Nottingham Forest team-mate Holt. However, while he’s confident they’d bring plenty of goals of their own to a side bidding to win the Championship and promotion, he also feels their experience would see Cummings, the club’s top scorer in the past two seasons, flourish.
Cummings only has this season remaining on his contract but Lennon underlined his determination to keep him at Easter Road by having him fly out to Paris – where he was working for the BBC at the European Championships – to underline his desire to see the 20-year-old stay put.
Lennon is well aware Cummings’ exploits in front of goal have attracted attention from elsewhere as has midfielder John McGinn, the Scotland Under-21 captain’s first season in green and white seeing him step up to Gordon Strachan’s full international squad before culminating in being part of the side which eventually ended Hibs’ 114-year Scottish Cup hoodoo.
While Lennon has already spoken to Cummings about his future, he has yet to do so with McGinn, who has been given a prolonged break after being involved in the Scotland squad which took on European Championship-bound Italy and France at the end of the season. While the former St Mirren youngster still has three years left on his contract, the message will be the same – he’s not leaving.
Adamant he won’t entertain any bids for Cummings, Lennon replied: “No, or McGinn for that matter. We want to get promotion and those two had great seasons last year. I want them to build on that.
“There is interest in both of them, but we are not under any pressure to sell. I’ve already spoken to Jason. The talks were very positive. I took him out to Paris where we had a good chat, with his agent. It went well, but there are no guarantees with these things. He knows how much we think of him and knows how much people in the background think of him as well. I am confident we will get over the line with that as well.
“John has a prolonged break because of Scotland duty, so I will speak to him when he comes back and tell him he is going nowhere.”
And Lennon emphasised he is under no pressure to sell, the former Celtic and Bolton Wanderers manager revealing he’s intent on adding to his squad with as many as four new faces.
He said: “If I wanted to sell them, I could push it through, but I don’t want to do that. Jason got 25 goals and at 20 years old has a lot of potential. He’s far from the finished article but I think he’d be better with us and we can develop him for another year or two.
“He can enjoy it here and being in an environment he knows and he can develop.”
And that is where Lennon believes 32-year-old McDonald and Holt, three years his senior, can play a vital role. He said: “I think Scott and Grant would be very good for Jason and he fact they are making waves to come here speaks volumes for their attitute.
“I’m sure they could get more money elsewhere but they are thinking about here for football reasons and for a manager that is a great sign.”
Lennon also feels both McDonald, who is out of contract at Fir Park, and Holt, who has played with a host of clubs in England including Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic, Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield, would enjoy the challenge of helping take Hibs back into the top flight of Scottish football.
He said: “The stadium, the training ground and the fanbase were great selling points for me. Winning the cup has lifted the fans too and they are on the front foot. That might entice a few people to come.
“It’s a big if, but if I can get over the line with either of them it would be a big statement of intent from the club. I think this is a club that has potential and it’s one that players would enjoy. It’s a big city club and, if you do well here, it does wonders for your profile.”
While talking of strengthening the squad he inherited from his predecessor Alan Stubbs, Lennon admitted he’s been pleasantly surprised by those players since they returned for pre-season training to meet both him and his assistant Garry Parker. He said: “I have to say I have been really surprised by the quality of player we have here. Not only by the quality of the football and the football intelligence, but their attitude towards training has been really good. It’s obviously only been a couple of days and we’ve not kicked a ball yet but, from what I’ve seen, I’ve been really delighted. Everything we have asked them to do, they have just taken to it.
“The response from the players has been great so far and myself and Garry have been really pleased with what we have seen so far. We have inherited a very good squad of footballers.”
Although he is anxious to add to his squad as quickly as possible – although the emphasis will be on quality rather than making rushed signings – Lennon admitted he won’t have put the finishing touches in place before Hibs face either Valur from Reykjavik or Denmark’s Brondby in their Europa League second qualifying round.
He said: “Initially, we are looking at four, but that will chop and change as the window goes on. We have the European game in a couple of weeks and we will not have the squad in place by then.
“But hopefully we will have a couple of additions in before then and get them bedded in. It will only be our third game after two pre-season matches, but we are used to that from European qualifiers at Celtic. It’s good, really good. We are happy with what we’ve got.”
• HIBS face Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park on Tuesday night – a match which will be pay at the gate – and League Two newcomers Edinburgh City at Meadowbank two days later. The club’s allocation of 4000 tickets goes on sale to season-ticket holders tomorrow and on general sale from Saturday with admission prices in both instances being £10 for adults and £5 for concessions.