Neil Lennon praised the quality of youngsters emerging at Hibs as he outlined his intention to promote several of them into his first team if they continue on an upward curve.
Grant Murray’s Under-20 team finished fourth in the SPFL Development League this season after topping the table for a large part of the season. Lennon, who has taken pride in blooding young players in his previous jobs, has been keeping a close eye on the talent coming through and is encouraged by what he sees.
“I’m really pleased with what’s coming through the academy,” said the manager. “[Coaches] Eddie May, Grant Murray, Colin Nish and Lee Makel have done a fantastic job this year. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of young player we have.
“We saw Fraser Murray last week. We know what he can do, we gave him the opportunity [against Raith Rovers] and he took it brilliantly. That didn’t surprise me. Then you’ve got the likes of Oli Shaw, Ryan Porteous and Sean Mackie. The development team has done very, very well this year and played real quality football. I know the step from development team to first team is huge but these guys have been training with the first team for the majority of the season.
“Personally, I think some of them are ready to play Championship level. What we want now is to bring them through slowly but surely into the first team for next season.
“Scott Martin has been around it all season, as has Callum Crane. Callum was very unfortunate to pick up an injury when he did because he’s been so patient but Scott’s come in and shown us what he can do, and he’ll only get better as well. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and say these guys are going to be this or that, but they’ve got half a chance.”
Porteous and Shaw are particularly highly regarded at Easter Road. Shaw has scored 29 goals for the development team this season, while senior players at the club have been blown away by the quality and strength of Porteous, a 17-year-old centre-back who has spent the season on loan at Edinburgh City. Lennon is eager to see them make the leap into the first team in due course.
“Porteous has had a fantastic season,” said Lennon. “He’s improving all the time and so is Shaw. I think in those two you’ve got two potentially very good players. I’m not going to say they’re going to be the next Maradona, but I’d like to think they’ll have an opportunity to play here and become regulars in the upcoming years, which is what the academy is here for. It’s about producing our own. “I think the fans take a bit more pride in seeing the young ones coming through, and I’m big on that.
“I did it at Celtic and I did it at Bolton with Zach Clough and Rob Holding, who moved on to Nottingham Forest and Arsenal for a few quid, and I want to do the same here.”