Hibs boss Neil Lennon has told midfielders Danny Handling and Sam Stanton he can’t guarantee them first-team football at Easter Road.
Once tipped for great things, the 23-year-olds have become peripheral figures at the Capital club, Handling having been blighted by injury for much of the past two seasons while Stanton has spent the past 18 months on loan at Livingston and then Dumbarton.
A measure of how far out of Lennon’s plans they are came last weekend, the pair sent to play with the development squad in the Ronnie Swan Cup at Ainslie Park while the first team prepared for Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial match against Sunderland the following day.
And they were on the bench as Hibs wrapped up their pre-season preparations by fielding a side containing seven players aged 20 or under against Berwick Rangers on Tuesday night although Lennon admitted they’d had added a “zip and tempo” when they were introduced as second-half substitutes at Shielfield Park, Handling opening the scoring in the 2-0 win.
However, with the likes of John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch, Marvin Bartley and Danny Swanson the leading contenders for the midfield places along with the emerging talents of Scott Martin and Fraser Murray, Lennon believes both Handling and Stanton will struggle for regular first-team football.
He said: “I’ve had a chat with both of them and they know it’s going to be difficult. Their attitude, though, has been great and they are training well. Danny has really impressed me.
“He’s worked really hard in the close season on his fitness levels and has come back looking really well. I’m very fond of Sammy too, but it’s very difficult with the midfield we have at the minute. They are both aware of the situation.
“They are of an age where they need first-team football – that’s something I can’t guarantee them.”
Lennon revealed there had “been interest” in both players, each of whom is under contract at Hibs for another year, but added: “We will have to wait and see what prevails. Unless something can be resolved, then they will be here.”
Lennon, meanwhile, was delighted with the performance of his predominantly inexperienced side at Berwick with the vast majority of his first-team regulars rested ahead of Saturday’s Betfred Cup tie at home to Montrose.
He said: “They improved as the game went on. It was a case of trying to find a balance between it and our competitive games starting.
“ With the Sunderland game on Sunday it was an opportunity to give fringe and younger players a run out.”