Neil Lennon hails Darren McGregor for seamless return to action & praises youngsters and depth ahead of Celtic clash

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

NEIL LENNON has paid tribute to comeback king Darren McGregor – insisting the Hibs ace looks like he has never been away.

Injuries to Steven Whittaker and skipper David Gray, as well as long-term absentee Liam Fontaine, saw McGregor thrust into the starting line-up against Partick Thistle on Saturday following more than three months on the sidelines.

The 32-year-old – whose previous outing came against Dundee on August 27 – underwent surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee in September but enjoyed a faultless return to action at Firhill as the Hibees claimed a 1-0 win over Thistle.

And Lennon had nothing but praise for the Hibs-daft defender, who has also endured two separate cruciate knee injuries in his career.

The Easter Road boss said: “I thought Darren was outstanding.
“He was unflustered, strong and he read the game very, very well. I agree it was like he had never been out of the team.

“It was great to have him back and a real boost for us going into December. It was a very good day against a very difficult opponent.”

The Hibs squad was stretched to its limits in Maryhill, with suspension to John McGinn and Danny Swanson also sidelined, leaving Lennon to turn to the likes of Vykintas Slivka and Oli Shaw during the hard-fought 90 minutes.

However, he hopes to see his options boosted for the visit of Celtic on Sunday, with Whittaker set to return. Gray, Swanson and Fontaine have also stepped up their respective recoveries this week as Lennon seeks to mastermind an end to the Hoops’ 67-match domestic unbeaten run.

He continued: “Steven pulled out [of the Thistle match] the day before the game, we understand that. Hopefully he’ll be fit for the Celtic match.

“Swanson isn’t a million miles away, Fontaine is back on the grass and we are hopeful that David Gray will train this week. It will be good to get some bodies back.”

Lennon was, however, full of praise for his backup brigade as Hibs illustrated their depth and extended their record as one of only two teams with an unbeaten record away from home in the SPFL this season.

He told Hibs TV: “I was really pleased with Slivka, he got better as the game went on. Young Oli Shaw came on and did a really good job for the team.

“With our young lads, we have Ryan Porteous and Fraser Murray who are bubbling along very nicely so there’s some good depth there.”

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