Neil Lennon hopes Florian Kamberi can add presence and physicality to Hibs’ attack as the Swiss striker prepares for a possible debut against Motherwell tonight.
Assuming international clearance is granted in time, the 22-year-old Grasshoppers Zurich forward is set to be in the squad this evening after agreeing a loan switch to Easter Road until the end of the season following a fruitful trial at East Mains over the last week and a half.
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With Deivydas Matulevicius having failed to make any impact since joining Hibs last summer, Lennon has had to rely heavily on teenager Oli Shaw to act as a focal point in recent months. The manager believes the 6ft 2ins Kamberi can bring an extra dimension to an attack which also features the hard-running duo of Martin Boyle and Simon Murray, and the recently-recruited Australian poacher Jamie Maclaren.
Asked what the Swiss Under-21 cap will bring to the party, Lennon said: “Physicality. He is not a monster but he is a big boy and he plays well with his back to goal. He has decent mobility and links the play well from what we have seen and we have had a good look at him and it is always good to see him close up rather than just in footage. I have been pleasantly surprised by what he’s brought and hopefully he can bring a different dimension to the way we play sometimes. He has really enjoyed being here and he has seen the derby and seen Celtic Park, he has seen us play Dundee and he has seen the facilities and the physicality and tempo of training and he has enjoyed it. It suits him.”
Kamberi scored three times when he first broke through at Grasshoppers two seasons ago, but has been unable to progress as planned since then. He arrives at Hibs following a loan stint with German second-tier side Karlsruhe in the first half of the season but hasn’t played competitively since early November. “He has taken a pay cut to come here so that speaks volumes for how much he wants to try to progress his career again,” said Lennon. “Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward again and I think that’s the way he is looking at it.”
Maclaren and Faycal Rherras could also make their Easter Road debuts this evening. Maclaren has featured as a late substitute in Hibs’ last two games, away to Dundee and Celtic, while Rherras, the former Hearts player who can play both full-back positions, has remained an unused substitute since arriving the day before the Scottish Cup defeat at Tynecastle.
“Jamie is getting closer to starting, it’s the same with Rherras,” said Lennon. “They came in a bit cold, a bit undercooked. But Jamie had 15 minutes against Dundee and Celtic. It’s a case of drip-feeding them in, but eventually they will play.
“Faycal can play in both full-back positions. He’s a good player to have. I can see him getting stronger as he hasn’t played since October. To throw him in for these games has been difficult but he’s getting better in training.
“We will use him on the left and right and that’s pleasing, as Steven Whittaker and David Gray are out long term. Lewis Stevenson has played a lot too, so it’s ideal that we have a player as versatile as that, who is comfortable at this level.”
Hibs will be looking to bolster their top-four prospects by defeating a Motherwell side who appear to have rediscovered their form since the winter break. The Lanarkshire side went nine games without a victory before the shutdown but have won two and drawn at Tynecastle in their three games since the resumption.
“They are playing well,” said Lennon. “They have got their mojo back. Losing Louis Moult would be a big loss to any team at this level so Stephen Robinson has had to go into the transfer market to replace him. That’s a hard thing to do. But they’ve had two wins and a draw since the restart of the campaign and I expect a tough game. If we could win, it would be a great three points, but we will have to be at our best.”
Striker Shaw believes tonight’s match is crucial for Hibs after Saturday’s defeat at Celtic Park, both in the context of keeping pressure on Rangers and Aberdeen above, and also in terms of staying ahead of Hearts. “It’s very important to get back on track because we want to close the gap above us and move further ahead of the teams below us,” he said. “We also want to make sure we get a result so we go into the next game against Rangers (at Ibrox on Saturday) with confidence.”
With Maclaren and Kamberi arriving in recent weeks, Shaw now faces fresh competition for a starting place at Hibs. However, the academy graduate has been buoyed by his emergence as one of the main strikers at Easter Road over the last couple of months. He is grateful to Lennon for placing such faith in him.
“At the start of the season I thought I’d be mostly in the development squad and if I worked hard I’d have a good chance to get on the bench a few times and try and come on and score a couple of goals,” he said. “Obviously the gaffer has trusted me and played me in the big games, and I’m grateful for that. You can only learn from playing against the best so I’ve learnt a lot from playing in these high-calibre games. I’ve probably played more than I expected but I’m a footballer and that’s what I want to do.”