Neil Lennon is hoping that the winter break will allow Steven Whittaker a chance to overcome the pelvic problem that has hindered him since he returned to Hibs in the summer.
The injury has had a restrictive effect on the 33-year-old’s training schedule and subsequently impacted upon his sharpness in matches. He has started only two of his team’s last eight games and generally been unable to operate at his peak. It remains to be seen if Whittaker will be used in any of the three remaining matches before the winter break but Lennon, pictured below, is hopeful that the Scotland internationalist will benefit from the three-week shutdown next month.
Asked if Whittaker was facing a sustained spell on the sidelines, the manager said: “I don’t know – we’re hoping not, but he’s just not been responding well (to treatment). He came back into the team against Celtic and then we gave him a bit of a rest against Rangers when he played only the last 15 minutes, and then he had just the second half against Aberdeen.
“He’s still not feeling as sharp as he would like because he’s not been training, so he’s deconditioned. The break’s coming up so we’ll have three weeks to try and get him right. I’m hoping he’ll figure in some of the games between now and the break but if he doesn’t then I’m hoping the break will let him make a full recovery. It’s been an ongoing problem for him for a while. He started the season well and played a lot of games but it just seems to have caught up with him about five weeks ago, and he’s been in and out since then.”
Whittaker’s issues have caused a particular headache for Lennon as they have come at a time when fellow right-back David Gray has been sidelined by a knee problem. This has led to Efe Ambrose filling in at right-back and Martin Boyle playing right wing-back on occasions. Gray is fit again but the effects of a virus this week have cast doubt over whether he will be deemed ready to start against Ross County at Easter Road today. Lennon is confident that at least one of his established right-backs will be available for the clash with Hearts at Tynecastle on Wednesday. “I’d hope to have at least one of them fit for the derby,” said the manager. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Danny Swanson is likely to feature over the next three games after returning to the match-day squad against Aberdeen last weekend following two months out with a knee injury. “Danny will figure in the next few games – he’s a good player to have back,” said Lennon. “It’s been a bit stop-start for him with his injuries and things going on off the field which were outwith his control, but he’s back now and he’ll be itching to play.”