Hibs boss Neil Lennon hopes Paul Hanlon will only be out for another couple of weeks as he prepares to undergo an operation to cure the pelvic problem which has been troubling him for a number of weeks.
Hanlon has missed the last three matches, Lennon admitting the defender had suffered a setback after being given a cortisone injection which was felt might avoid the need for surgery. The 27-year-old consulted a specialist yesterday with a viewto having the operation carried out within the next couple of days leading Lennon to say: “We are hoping it will only be a week or two that he is out.”
The loss of Hanlon has, Lennon admitted, been the only dark cloud on “a great January” for the club, one which earned him the Championship manager of the month award after his side opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the table on title rivals Dundee United.
And he sees the fact United’s home match against Raith Rovers tomorrow begins after Hibs have played Ayr United as a chance to further turn the screw on Ray McKinnon’s side.
Lennon said: “January is gone now and we are just looking to try and forge ahead again if we can. All our focus is on Ayr United – they are the only team to beat us at Easter Road so we are not taking it lightly.
“It’s an opportunity before Dundee United kick off later to extend the lead if we can and just keep putting pressure on the rest of the teams in the division.”
Having notched up five straight wins, Lennon believes Hibs have recaptured their momentum aided by the return from injury of midfielders John McGinn, Fraser Fyvie and Dylan McGeouch, a situation which saw him bring in Celtic star Kris Commons on an emergency 28-day loan, a move which was repaid by the 33-year-old scoring winning goals against both Falkirk and Dumbarton.
He said: “We did have that period where we lost John, Dylan and Fraser at the same time. They are three excellent players in our midfield department. Any club in the country would miss them.
“Having them back now has just strengthened us. Defensively, we have also been very good. I am very pleased with the overall level of performance we have shown and it is important we maintain that now.”
Lennon revealed Hibs had failed in a bid to bring Scottish Cup goalscoring hero Anthony Stokes back to Easter Road for a third term, a proposed move on transfer deadline day to sign him on loan from Blackburn Rovers having fallen through.
He said: “We were very close to Stokesy, I think that has been well documented so I am not talking out of turn. To be fair to the club, they did everything they could to try and get the deal done. There is certainly no blame to be apportioned to anyone on our side. We go as we are. We’ve brought in Chris Humphrey and Scott Gallacher. No-one has gone out.”
A longer loan deal for Commons had been mooted but Lennon insisted it would be difficult to bring him back to Hibs again. He said: “We did it at the time because we were losing bodies and it worked for us.
“I think it worked for Kris as well but longer term he has got to think about his own future. And, if we were thinking about trying to do a longer-term deal, it would have been very difficult for us.
“I doubt we’d be able to bring him in again, even on a short-term basis. Whether we would want to as well with everyone back fit, it would maybe clog things up a bit as well. But you never say never.”