Paul Hanlon: Hibs boss Lee Johnson explains how close captain is to first-team return
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The 32-year-old, who has been rebuilding his fitness after knee surgery in the summer, played 45 minutes for the B team against Brechin City in the SPFL Trust Trophy on Wednesday night.
He also had a 75-minute run-out the previous week in the development team’s friendly against Queen’s Park and was an unused substitute against Hearts at Easter Road last week.
The trip to Livingston, on an artificial surface, will probably come too soon but Johnson reckons Hanlon is not far away from being in contention to start.
“I think he’s close,” said the manager. “Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we see him getting minutes.
“He looks in better shape. The first game he looked like he needed it. On Wednesday [for the B team] I thought he did well. He looked springier, a bit brighter and his footwork was good. He’s got quality on the ball and he’s a leader in terms of that organisation.”
Johnson believes Hanlon will provide his defence with better balance in the longer tern, but he is satisfied with the partnership Ryan Porteous and Rocky Bushuri have formed in the meantime.
“Paul brings that natural balance that a lefty gives you. I think we’ve been a bit short of that. Ryan [Porteous] is naturally a right-sided centre-half but his partnership with Rocky has been very good so far. It has allowed us to play with a higher line, on the front foot and be aggressive.
“But having Paul at the club gives you that natural balance. He has a lot of experience. He’s a very good organiser and a good talker and the way we want to play, having him can add to our fluidity.”
“We haven’t conceded lots of goals throughout pre-season or now, so we’re pretty steady at the back. Not too bad. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but over a period of six or seven games we’ve looked alright.”