Neil Lennon has hinted that James Keatings will have a more prominent role to play at Hibs this season after comparing him to Celtic attacker Kris Commons.
However, the 24-year-old may have to take a step back if he is to establish himself in the Easter Road starting XI.
Keatings was unable to nail down a regular berth in his first campaign with the club, with Dominique Malonga and subsequently Anthony Stokes often preferred by Alan Stubbs as Jason Cummings’ main strike partner.
Grant Holt has arrived to replace the Blackburn Rovers-bound Stokes and looks certain to start the new season in attack beside Cummings, but Lennon is clearly an admirer of Keatings, whom he worked with during his time as Celtic manager.
The former Hearts striker played in an attacking midfield role in Sunday’s friendly win over Shrewsbury Town and was charged with taking all of his team’s set-pieces. Lennon has described him as a well-rounded attacker with similar attributes to Commons, who was one of the stars of his Celtic team.
“Keatings reminds me a lot of Kris Commons,” said the Hibs manager, speaking before he was hit with his five-match UEFA ban. “He has good delivery in his armoury, allied to goals and a good workrate. He only needs half a yard, he’s got very good technique with both feet and he wants to score goals.”
Keatings, who has hit double figures in each of his last three seasons, has been in prolific scoring form this summer, netting in each of his last four friendly outings – against Edinburgh City, Motherwell, Birmingham City and Shrewsbury – while also bagging a hat-trick for a Hibs XI in a friendly against Hawick Royal Albert.
Although renowned predominantly for his goal-scoring, Lennon insists Keatings can be an effective weapon for Hibs if deployed in a more withdrawn role. “We played him in a different position against Shrewsbury on Sunday but he’s a good footballer who can adapt to different things,” said the manager. “He can play up front, off the front or out wide. He played up on his own against Birmingham the week before, did a great job for us and scored. His finish on Sunday was sublime and his overall performance was very good. We’re pleased with what we’re seeing from him.”