Hibs boss Neil Lennon has accused Australia of “moving the goalposts” after learning he will be without Martin Boyle, Jamie Maclaren and Mark Milligan for next Saturday’s Edinburgh derby.
The Easter Road players have been named in the Socceroos squad charged with retaining the Asian Cup which takes place in the United Arab Emirates next month, and will fly out to join their international team-mates immediately after Hibs face Rangers at Ibrox on Boxing Day.
But Lennon, who met Socceroos coach Graham Arnold at East Mains earlier this year when he championed the cause of Boyle who qualifies for Australia as his father Graeme was born in Sydney, revealed he was led to believe he’d have at least one of those players for the derby,
The Capital club could have asked the SPFL for the game to be postponed under FIFA rules but have elected not to do so, Lennon adamant a call-off would have been a huge disappointment for supporters, both at a sold-out Easter Road and those watching live on television.
Celtic are still hoping to persuade the Australians to allow Tom Rogic, described by Arnold as “the Wizard of Oz”, to be available for the Old Firm derby on that same day and Hibs will be watching developments with interest.
Lennon said: “Of course, we would say something if that was to happen. It opens up a whole can of worms. You can’t have one rule for one and another for the rest. It’s not just ourselves and Celtic, there are English teams as well that they are having to battle.
“I appreciate it is probably a difficult situation for Graham as well but it still isn’t the indication we got two months ago. We were of the opinion that we would be able to negotiate one or two players and not lose all three, so the goalposts have moved a little bit.
“It wasn’t the indication we were given when we were promoting Boyle. Boyle became an option and he went away, did very well and has become a welcome addition to their squad, but then we get the email in saying they are taking all three of them after Boxing Day.
“I would have expected to have at least one of the players here for the derby. I didn’t expect to have none of them so I’m disappointed.”
Even so, Lennon has no regrets at pushing Boyle, saying: “It’s good for him and his career. It’s a big tournament as well, but that is of no relevance to me whatsoever. But we beat Celtic last week without all three Australian boys in the team so we will just have to negotiate another tough game without them.”
Declaring the derby is still a match Hibs can win despite their absence, Lennon, who pointed out a postponement could lead to fixture congestion later in the season, added: “We have taken a positive stance. It would be a huge disappointment to the supporters and you have to consider them. At this time of year they have made plans for the game. It will be a full-house, on tv. There is no right or wrong in this, so we have taken the decision to keep the game on.”
Lennon’s more immediate concern is today’s match with Livingston with goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and midfielder Stevie Mallan out although skipper David Gray has been added to the squad for the first time since the beginning of October. Defender Paul Hanlon, who has played just twice since September, is expected to be available for the trip to Ibrox along with Mallan who has a slight groin problem.