Neil Lennon has been encouraged by Dylan McGeouch’s fitness this summer as the Hibs midfielder bids to enjoy an injury-free season.
The 24-year-old has been plagued by niggles throughout his three years at Easter Road and was restricted to just 16 starts last term, with an injury sustained in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April ending his campaign prematurely.
However, McGeouch has enjoyed a promising summer thus far and has featured prominently in pre-season and in the opening two Betfred Cup matches against Montrose and Ross County before being rested against Arbroath on Tuesday.
“Dylan has been good, very good,” said Lennon, when asked how the midfielder has been shaping up. “He has the bit between the teeth. There have been a few niggles here or there but nothing major and we have been pleased with his level of fitness and his performances in the games so far. He was feeling a bit stiff in midweek but we felt that other players needed to play anyway so we didn’t see the point in taking a risk with him. I don’t want to lose players so early, before we have even gone into the season, so we are trying to find the balance between getting everyone enough game time but not over fatiguing them.”
Former captain Kevin Thomson last week described McGeouch as Hibs’ best player when fit, although he acknowledged that his former midfield colleague’s injury history would cause Lennon a headache in terms of planning ahead.
“Yeah,” said Lennon, when asked if McGeouch’s situation represents a managerial dilemma. “But you could say that about any player. You don’t know what injuries you are going to get but certainly with Dylan, we know he has a history of being in for a few games and then out for a few games and we will manage that as best we can.”
Paul Hanlon could be on the substitutes’ bench for today’s Betfred Cup trip to Alloa Athletic after playing an hour of Sunday’s friendly against Selkirk. The defender sat out most of the second half of last season after being plagued by a pelvic problem. “Paul will not be in contention for a start but he will be in the squad,” said Lennon. “He trained on Thursday and has had a good week. He is still a little bit short cardiovascular-wise so you may or may not see him [at Alloa] but it is great to have him back.”
Danny Swanson is suspended today after picking up bookings in his first two games for Hibs, against County and Arbroath. Asked if the midfielder was trying too hard to make his presence felt at the club he supports, Lennon said: “No. For me, the second one was a good booking. They were breaking on us and we don’t do that enough [tactical fouls]. The first one, at Ross County, is something I have spoken to him about, I wasn’t happy with that. It was a late tackle and we pride ourselves on our discipline. But, no, I don’t think he is trying too hard. I know the club means a lot to him and I have been conscious of that because sometimes you can try too hard but while that might have been the case early on, I think he has settled in and his football is very good. He still needs to get up to top speed, fitness wise, but I have been very pleased with what I have seen from him. His last two performances have been exceptional.”
Hibs, who could give debuts to Lithuanian pair Deivydas Matulevicius and Vykintas Slivka (international clearance pending), must win at Alloa to be assured of progressing to the knockout phase of the Betfred Cup. Lennon’s team are currently second in Group D, but, with seven points and a strong goal difference, they are on course to qualify as one of the four best runners-up if they take three points today. The match marks Hibs’ last outing before they kick off their Premiership campaign at home to Partick Thistle. “The Alloa game is about sealing qualification first and foremost,” said Lennon. “We need to get the maximum points available to us to get us into the next round. Then, obviously, although we are looking good already anyway, another game will do no harm at all and then we have another week, which is a long time pre-season, to get the fitness and football ready. I have been very pleased with what I have seen so far.
“I am very pleased and the squad is starting to take shape and we are playing well. There have been definite improvements in the games as we have gone along. We have the two Lithuanian boys already and McGregor, McGeouch and Hanlon have all to come back into the team from Tuesday night. But we still put on a great performance against Arbroath. We are looking good but I am not getting carried away.”