BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON insists Hibs are getting three players for the price of one as the club prepare to unveil Steven Whittaker as their latest summer signing.
The former Scotland and Norwich defender was present at the Hibees’ East Lothian training base yesterday to meet his prospective new teammates as he puts the finishing touches to his return to Easter Road.
The formalities of the protracted switch are expected to be formally finalised over the weekend, allowing Whittaker to be announced as a Hibs player early next week – a decade after departing to join Rangers.
With the deal all-but complete, Lennon was yesterday comfortable enough to underline the qualities offered by the experienced 33-year-old – who he reckons will prove to be a “coup” for the capital club.
“The Whittaker one is very close now and hopefully we will be able to announce something early next week,” confirmed Lennon. “I think it will be a real coup for this club.
“We’ll be getting three players in one with Steven, he can play in both full-back positions, he is excellent in midfield and has had a stellar career.
“I believe there is plenty more to come. He looks in great condition and we’ll hope to get over the line by the weekend.”
The trial of former Aberdeen striker Simon Church is set to continue into next week as the Wales international, who missed nine months of last season with Roda JC due to a serious hip injury, regains fitness and sharpness.
Nevertheless, Lennon has been impressed by the impact made by the free agent, who registered six goals in 13 matches for the Dons at the tail end of the 2015/16 campaign and represented his country at Euro 2016.
Hibs also continue to be linked with Anthony Stokes as they seek to bolster their attacking options.
“It’s too early for Simon Church in the sense that he’s only been here for a couple of days and I imagine he’ll stay with us next week, unless anything else crops up for him,” said Lennon. “At the minute, he is getting his fitness levels up, training well – but it’s no guarantee.
“It’s progress, progress, progress. We are getting there.
“I think it’s really important to have continuity, but now it’s just about adding bits of quality here and there. The core of the squad is good and we are anticipating a good season.
“I’m pleased with the business we have done and hopefully we’ll soon have even more names that will really appeal to the supporters.”
Meanwhile, Lennon has confirmed that Efe Ambrose has returned to training after being declared AWOL at the start of this week.
While the player has been privately reprimanded, Lennon has accepted the defender’s explanation for his absence and insists the matter is now closed – albeit he will NOT be in contention to face Montrose when the Hibees kick off their Betfred Cup campaign on Saturday.
“The eagle has landed,” laughed Lennon. “And the hatchet has been buried . . . in his head!
“No, it has been dealt with. He was off until Monday and had a personal issue, and there was a slight communication problem. But he is here now, he is fine and he is in good health. That’s the end of it.
“Knowing Efe and his levels, he’d be fit for Montrose, but I’m not going to use him on Saturday because he is only just back in the country. However, he’ll be ready to play against Ross County.
“I’m satisfied with his explanation. He’s not the type to blank anyone or be malicious about it – he is a good professional, and he did have an issue and has explained that fully and it’s fine – but you still have to deal with that internally.”