Hibs star Paul Hanlon glad to see Efe Ambrose back at Easter Road
Ambrose ended a seven-month exile from football by clinching a deal for Gary Holt’s side and was immediately hauled into Livingston’s squad for today’s match at Easter Road. But Hanlon is certain the 31-year-old will take a quick-fire debut in front of the supporters who enjoyed his sometimes unpredictable style of play in his stride given his laid-back approach to the game.
Having initially arrived at Hibs on loan from Celtic, Ambrose signed a two-year contract only to invoke a clause in that deal which allowed him to leave during last season’s January transfer window.
He signed for Frank Lampard’s Derby County but didn’t play a game for the Rams, leaving last summer to find himself without a club until Livingston made their surprise move this week.
“I was maybe a bit surprised,” conceded Hanlon. “It’s normally something you’d hear sniffs of it happening but I didn’t really know much about it. But he’s a good player and he needed to get back playing football.”
Despite playing 51 times for his country, in the finals of the World Cup, at the Olympics, in the Africa Cup of Nations and in the Champions League for Celtic, Ambrose suffered for a string of high-profile mistakes unfairly, insisted Neil Lennon who managed him both at Celtic and in Edinburgh, branded by some as “a bombscare”.
Hanlon, however, insisted it was easy to adapt to Ambrose’s way of playing. He said: “When you go into games you know who you’re playing with. I knew what kind of things he liked to, so you adjust accordingly really.
“There were times when he played some unbelievable stuff for Hibs and then other times he has his wee slack moments – which most defenders do. When he was really on it he was a composed, fit, fast, strong defender and some of his best moments were probably later on in his Hibs career.
“But he wasn’t that good that he was untouchable. There’d be something wrong if you couldn’t shout at him. When he was in our squad he was just like the rest of us.”
Ambrose will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the Hibs support but, insisted Hanlon, the Capital side will be looking to build on the recent run of form which has seen them haul themselves to within a point of Livingston and to the fringes of the race for Europe.
He said: “Efe is a very good player on his day, but it doesn’t matter who’s playing for them, we want to make it as difficult as we can for them. Hopefully they all have a really bad day and we have a really good day.
“I’m sure Livingston will see it as a sign of their ambition, but at the same time they’ve been having a good season so he’ll probably find it hard to get into their team as well. I don’t see them changing too much when they have a good, reliable, hard working squad.”
Another former Hibs player, midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley, played a significant role in helping persuade Ambrose to sign for Livingston, this season’s surprise package in the Premiership capable of causing any side problems – as Jack Ross’s players know to their cost. And, insisted Hanlon, Bartley, the Lions captain, epitomises his team’s attitude, the 33-year-old seemingly enjoying a new lease of life in West Lothian, an observation underlined by the fact he’s already made 34 appearances for them compared to just 17 in his final season at Easter Road.
Agreeing that many thought Bartley was coming to the end of his days when he left Hibs, Hanlon said: “Going there and when he’s fit he is probably one of the first picks on the team sheet has made a big difference to him.
“He’s thriving on that and has been a real driving force for Livingston since the start of the season. He’s that type of character, he’s a leader, an infectious character in the dressing room.
“They all seem to be fighting for their manager and each other every week and that’s half the battle when you’re trying to pick up points in this league.”