Neil Lennon believes Hibs striker Jamie Maclaren can help force his way into Australia’s World Cup plans by playing a starring role in tonight’s derby clash with Hearts.
Maclaren, who has already won five caps with the Socceroos, had found his international hopes on the wane following an ill-fated move from Brisbane Roar to German side Darmstadt. However, his performances after arriving in Edinburgh on loan durng the January transfer window have earned him a call-up by the Aussies’ new coach Bert van Marwijk for friendly matches against Norway and Colombia at the end of this month as they begin their preparations for this summer’s finals in Russia. Dutchman Van Marwijk has named a 29-man squad for those games, one which he will whittle down to 23 next week, but Lennon insists 24-year-old Maclaren will find no better stage to further his claim than under the lights at Easter Road tonight.
Melbourne-born Maclaren has only scored one goal in a green-and-white shirt – a penalty kick winner against Rangers – which has helped Hibs take a grip on fourth place in the Premiership table nine points ahead of their Capital rivals. Lennon, though, has been delighted with Maclaren’s contribution, saying: “Jamie has played well and has looked a threat. He was very good against Rangers and helped us make the breakthrough against Aberdeen and that will help give him a huge shot in the arm, raise his profile and get him in the mind of the international manager. I know it is just a preliminary squad, but it is still good that he is back in there and his name is around it. Tonight’s match is on television and, as well as wanting to play well for us, he has the added incentive of getting himself to the forefront of the coach’s mind.”
Maclaren watched from the bench, an unused substitute, as a late Don Cowie goal ended Hibs’ run of nine Edinburgh derbies without defeat but, he revealed, he now feels ready to play his part in reversing that result, confident that, if he and his team-mates can reproduce their recent displays as they defeated Rangers and Aberdeen, then they’ll be more than capable of doing so. Hearts’ Scottish Cup victory led Jambos boss Craig Levein to infuriate Lennon with his assertion the result had “restored the natural order of things”, a comment which Maclaren claimed had left him baffled.
With a Hearts supporting grandfather who lives in Corstorphine, Maclaren said: “I’ve always known the Edinburgh derby is massive. But I don’t really know what the ‘natural order’ means. We are sitting above them so I don’t know what that means in context. We are nine points clear and they want to catch us – but we want to catch Aberdeen. That’s our goal and I’m sure if we put in a good performance we will get the three points.”
n HIBS face Celtic in the SPFL Development League at East Mains tomorrow, (kick-off 12.00). The young Hibees – three points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand – also face the Hoops in the semi-final of the SFA Youth Cup at the end of the month.