BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON reckons Hibs have been a victim of their own success after insisting it is “surreal” that they are forced to face their crunch Championship clash against Falkirk with two of their key players.
Lennon last night confirmed that John McGinn will be remaining with the Scotland camp ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia, dashing his hope that the combative midfielder may be released if it became clear he would not feature at Hampden.
It is a hammer-blow for the Hibees, who will also be without number one goalkeeper Ofir Marciano on Saturday, with the towering Israeli set to reclaim his place between the sticks for the national side in tonight’s mouth-watering encounter against Spain.
There is a Premiership hiatus during the international dates, but Championship fixtures all continue and rules require three players to be called up for a club to request a postponement.
Lennon said: “It is a bit of a surreal situation, really, that we have to go ahead with the game – a really important game – with two of our most important players going away with their country.
“I’m not sure if you would call it a punishment, but it is definitely a hindrance.
“It just shows what a good season we are having that it has got Ofi back in the Israel manager’s thinking and John McGinn has been involved for Scotland.
“I spoke to John after the game and he seemed in a good place. He has another cap in front of his home crowd, so that is pretty special. He will obviously be involved in some capacity in the game on Sunday, which is fantastic for him. It’s not great for me.
“He is under Gordon’s jurisdiction with Scotland, he’s their player and, if Gordon wasn’t going to use him, then I’m sure I would know by now.
“Ofir has had a very good season and, once he got over his injuries, has been very consistent.
“It’s strange, really strange. But we are prepared for it. We have a good deputy for Ofi in Ross Laidlaw and some good midfielders while John is away.”
Lennon was in attendance for Scotland’s turgid 1-1 draw against Canada as McGinn won his third cap with a late cameo.
While he was delighted for his young midfielder, the Northern Irishman admits it was a player in red who caught his eye – with Falkirk winger Fraser Aird scoring his first international goal and tormenting the hosts all night.
The ex-Rangers starlet will be out to turn in a similarly impressive display in Leith tomorrow when the Bairns visit.
And Lennon, who is adamant the much-maligned Easter Road surface “should be fine” after going to pitch-side following the friendly to size up the damage, admits the dazzling showing gave him plenty to chew over.
Lennon continued: “Fraser Aird was excellent, certainly Canada’s best player. He was a threat the whole night and I was very impressed.
“He scored a good goal and made some great runs.
“It definitely gave me some food for thought. There will be a confidence and familiarity now for him going into the game on Saturday at Easter Road. I’m not sure if he’s been playing that well for Falkirk!”
Lennon knows the next four days could prove defining in the Hibees’ quest to return to the Premiership at the third time of asking, with Falkirk and Morton both visiting Easter Road as they seek to eat into the capital clubs’ nine-point advantage.
Lennon, who confirmed skipper David Gray is a doubt with a tight hamstring, added: “The Falkirk game will take care of itself. There is some historic rivalry there and we know that if we win it will be almost impossible for them to catch us.
“We then play Morton, which is another huge game, so this is a big week for us.”