Neil Lennon has insisted Paul Hanlon’s Scotland call-up is long overdue, claiming the Hibs defender would have already been capped had it not been for the Easter Road outfit’s three seasons in the Championship.
Hanlon has been named for the first time in interim national coach Malky Mackay’s squad for next week’s friendly against Holland at Pittodrie along with Hibs team-mate John McGinn and, believes Lennon, he could quickly make himself a Scotland regular. Lennon admitted he was surprised to hear of former Scotland Under-21 captain Hanlon’s inclusion having had no prior warning from the SFA, but said: “First of all I’m thrilled for Paul. I think he deserves it. He’d probably have been in the Scotland squad sooner if he hadn’t been plying his trade in the Championship for three years. It was a nice surprise and for me thoroughly merited.”
Mackay was at Easter Road last Tuesday night to see Hanlon impress as Hibs win the derby against Hearts and Lennon said: “Paul has had a fantastic start to the season, the last month, two months he has played consistently well alongside Efe Ambrose.
“I think he has real good attributes. He’s quick, which is always a good asset. He reads the game well and he has prowess in the air. He doesn’t look a 6ft 4in Grant Hanley-type, but his timing in the air in both boxes has been excellent.
“He handles the ball pretty well, he can pass it long, pass it short and has good leadership qualities and at 27 he’s coming into the best years of his career so this should be a good shot in the arm for him.
“Paul had a bad injury last year and we missed him for three or four months, so at the start of the season you could see he was just pushing back into it. Now we are seeing the real fruits of that and if he can stay injury free he can have a really good time of it over the next five or six years. There are areas of his game he can still work on and hopefully he will as he goes on.”
Noting that 33-year-old Hibs right back Steven Whittaker, recalled but unused for the final four games of Gordon Strachan’s reign, had been omitted this time round, Lennon said: “Maybe Malky is looking to the future, I understand that.
“Paul has competition in there from Christophe Berra and Charlie Mulgrew, but he is at an age you are going to see the best of him.”
Having followed up the derby triumph with another narrow 1-0 win against Motherwell, Lennon is anxious to see his side clock up another three points when they travel to face Kilmarnock tonight in what will be the first home game for new Rugby Park boss Steve Clarke, who has enjoyed back-to-back draws at Ibrox and Celtic Park.
He said: “It is an important game for us because we could go third and psychologically that would be huge at this stage of the season. Then we have a good run of games coming up where we aren’t playing anyone around us. Every game is difficult, but it’s a decent run where, hopefully, we can pick up some more points and improve our league position again.”
Meanwhile, Lennon will have to do without striker Anthony Stokes and midfielder Danny Swanson again. Both miss out with ankle and knee problems respectively.