HIBS boss Neil Lennon today revealed that Hibs defender Paul Hanlon has agreed a new contract which will keep him at Easter Road until the summer of 2022.
Hanlon still had another season on his existing deal to run but the Capital club have moved quickly to secure his long-term future with the 28-year-old expected to put pen to paper in the next few days.
Lennon believes Hanlon is at the peak of his career at the moment, claiming he’s hardly put a foot wrong this season but, having been called up for Scotland’s friendly against the Netherlands in November, he was overlooked by new national coach Alex McLeish in his first squad for the recent games with Costa Rica and Hungary. McLeish gave Aberdeen youngster Scott McKenna his first two caps in those matches but, while admitting Hanlon has perhaps been a bit unfortunate with Scotland enjoying a plethora of left-side central defenders at present, Lennon insisted he should remain very much in the international frame.
Expressing his delight that the former Scotland Under-21 captain had verbally agreed to extend his contract. the Hibs boss said: “I don’t think you should write him off, I really don’t.
“There’s no argument about McKenna. I think he has been brilliant, outstanding as well and he played very well in the two games. But I think Paul is right in there as well. He needs to keep concentrating, playing the way he is and be patient.
“For me, he’s hardly put a foot wrong this season, he’s played so well. He’s a modern centre-half, he is comfortable on the ball, quick, quite comfortable bringing the ball foward and he heads the ball in both boxes. You saw the assist for Flo Kamberi’s third goal against Hamilton. a reverse right-foot pass. He’s got that in his game.
“I’m delighted he’s extending his contract. He’s been brilliant and deserves it. We want him here and he is happy to be here. He’s earned it. He’s captain at the minute and revelling in that role as well.”
Hanlon’s loyalty has also been rewarded with the announcement he’ll benefit from a testimonial year, now Hibs’ longest-serving player behind Lewis Stevenson, who will play his 400th game for the Edinburgh side when they face Ross County in Dingwall this afternoon, Lennon confirming he’ll be one of the first names on his teamsheet.
He said: “Lewis is an outstanding player. He has worked under a lot of managers here and it is testament to his professionalism that he is still here, playing as well as ever. He’s still only 29 so he has a few more years in front of him and I think he will get even better.
“I think he has been absolutely brilliant and so consistent again this season.”
Lennon insisted Stevenson, like Hanlon, had been “a fantastic servant” to Hibs but admitted the pair were, perhaps, taken for granted a little simply because of the fact they’ve been part of the Easter Road side for so many years.
He said: “In the past couple of years, they have got what they deserved. They have won the cup and are back in the Premiership and you can see they are revelling in it while the connection between them and the supporters is fantastic. You aren’t at a club like Celtic, Hibs or Rangers for ten years and not be a top player.”
Lennon claimed that Hanlon and Stevenson, along with half their team-mates, would be contenders to be player of the year but, while adamant he’ll leave that decision to the supporters, he revealed his own choice would be Martin Boyle.
He said: “It’s his first season at this level and he’s been a revelation, unbelievably good.”