Hibs boss Neil Lennon believes teenage striker Oli Shaw is ready to play his part as the Easter Road outfit seek to turn up the heat on Aberdeen and Rangers in the race for second place in the Premiership table.
Shaw has already claimed a trio of high-profile goals, scoring in the Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic, repeating the feat as Hibs held Brendan Rodgers’ side to a draw at home and then notching a vital winner against Ross County.
But, revealed Lennon, the youngster is in danger of being remembered for “the goals he never scored” following his disallowed strike against Hearts in the latest Edinburgh derby, while recalling how Shaw also almost ended Celtic’s unbeaten run, his last-minute effort taken off the line by Hoops defender Mikael Lustig.
“I think he must have run over a black cat,” joked Lennon. “He’s disappointed, but he’s 19, he’ll shrug it off. But he can be very, very pleased with his contribution so far. His movement for the non-goal was great. He knew it was a goal, the two of them [Shaw and Martin Boyle] ran off celebrating and there was an element of disbelief when it wasn’t given.”
Lennon admitted he had been a bit wary of pitching Shaw into first-team action, but was persuaded to do so given his prolific strike-rate for the club’s development league side over the past 18 months. He said: “Oli is a work in progress, we have tried to drip feed him in slowly.
“He’s been knocking on the door for a while and he’s producing. Looking at him, you are always a bit wary of throwing kids in and physically he needs to develop a bit more. But his temperament is very good and he is a cut above development level. I think he is past that stage now.
“He’s been training with the first team a long time and he has been patient. I think he has been a real bonus for us. He’ll have a part to play in the second half of the season, how big I don’t know.”
Lennon expressed his disappointment at losing out in his bid to persuade Niall McGinn to sign rather than return to Aberdeen – “we’re disappointed, but we understand his choice, we were in the mix for a while” – but revealed he is looking to bring in another attack-minded player, with Lithuanian internationalist Deivydas Matulevicius having been told he’s free to leave Easter Road.
However, he admitted Shaw is “right in amongst the mix”, along with Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray who have scored 14 goals between them so far.
“We’d like them to score more, obviously, but they’ve weighed in with their fair share and we’d like some more from midfield over the second half of the season,” Lennon added.
Meanwhile, Hibs will go into today’s match against Kilmarnock, their final game of 2017, without winger Brandon Barker, who picked up a knee injury in the derby with Hearts, while Boyle and midfield enforcer Marvin Bartley are doubtful with an ankle injury and a dead leg respectively.