BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBS head coach Neil Lennon concedes that the uncertainty regarding the future of John McGinn is ‘unsettling’ for the player after Celtic saw a second bid for the Scotland internationalist rejected.
Lennon confirmed that an offer had been rebuffed yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon and indicated that the onus was now on the Scottish champions to meet the valuation that Easter Road chiefs have placed on their prize asset.
Although the Northern Irishman is honest enough to acknowledge that the furore would affect any player, Lennon fully intends to field McGinn against NSI Runavik when Hibs embark on their Europa League campaign at Easter Road.
“Of course it is unsettling for the player,” said Lennon. “This is football, and you can’t stop progress, but all the speculation is not an easy thing for him to deal with.
“We just need to manage him as best we can until it’s resolved one way or the other.
“The best thing for him is to play. I’ve seen no ill-effects in his play. He was excellent on Sunday [against Blackburn] and played well at Linlithgow. He has a bit of a dead leg but trained well on Wednesday and is available for Runavik.
“You would need to ask Celtic if it’s inevitable that John will go. We’ve had two bids in, which have not been accepted by the club. There’s been communication between the clubs and I think Celtic are aware of what we value John at – they haven’t met that.”
There have been suggestions that Scott Allan, who excelled on loan at Easter Road last season in his second spell at the club, could be used as a makeweight in the deal.
However, the playmaker was on the bench for the Hoops when they face Alashkert on Tuesday night.
Lennon added, bluntly: “Scott Allan hasn’t been mentioned in the talks.”
Lennon, meanwhile, could hand a competitive debut to Stevie Mallan following his £175,000 capture from Barnsley. Contrary to suggestions that he could be a ready-made replacement for McGinn, the Hibs gaffer is adamant he is the successor to another Scotland internationalist who has already departed Easter Road this summer.
“He is not a replacement for John. He is a player much more in the mould of [Dylan] McGeouch,” added Lennon. “It was obviously a blow to lose Dylan, but I knew Stevie could come in and really add to our midfield.”
Like McGeouch, Lennon is hopeful Mallan can use his spell at Hibs to kick-start his career following a miserable stint at Oakwell that saw him restricted to just nine appearances last season.
“It is easy to say now in hindsight that Stevie went down south when he was too young,” continued Lennon, who confirmed that the club are no closer to completing the signing of Preston winger Daryl Horgan. “But, when a chance like that comes along, you’re always going to take it.
“Sometimes, there can be things going on behind the scenes and the club might not quite be how it seems when it’s sold to you. But it hasn’t affected his confidence. He made it clear he wanted to come here and the club pursued him vigorously.”
As Hibs embark on their Europa League adventure against modest opponents in the form of Faroese part-timers Runavik, Lennon has left no stone unturned – dispatching assistant Garry Parker and senior scout Michael Meechan to the tiny Scandinavian island.
He has no intention of enduring a humiliating exit as he ambitiously targets the group phase – a stage no team out-with Celtic and Rangers have reached since Aberdeen in 2007/08.
“We have had Runavik scouted. Mikey and Garry went out to see them a couple of weeks ago – planes, trains and automobiles!” smiled Lennon. “We won’t be taking anything for granted, I can assure you of that.
“The objective is to try to reach the group stage. We earned the right to be here with how well we did last season and, clearly, the incentive is not to waste all of that hard work.”
Ahead of what could be his maiden outing for the Hibees, Mallan added: “To have your first competitive match in Europe is a massive thing. I’ve never played in Europe before so I am looking forward to it. I am hoping to get on and do well.”