BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
IAN MURRAY reckons the lure of working with Neil Lennon has helped Hibernian assemble a league of nations with the pedigree to handle a Premiership push.
The former Easter Road captain’s only fear is that Lennon’s fine work in the capital will see him prised away from Leith.
The arrival of versatile Greek defender Charalampos Mavrias this week took the number of full internationals on the books at the Hibees to a remarkable THIRTEEN.
Among their ranks is Australia stalwart Mark Milligan, who has made 71 appearances for the Socceroos and represented them at four World Cups, Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations-winner Efe Ambrose and 31-cap Steven Whittaker.
Paul Hanlon and Martin Boyle have also been part of Scotland and Australia respectively squads without making their debuts.
Considering Lennon was faced with the challenge of replacing the likes of talismanic John McGinn, Scotland cap Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan, Murray believes he has worked wonders to assemble a squad capable of surging into second spot – a point ahead of Celtic.
“I’ve always believed Neil is a quality coach and someone who gets the best out of his squad – but he has recruited exceptionally well,” said Murray. “He has brought in players with a huge amount of pedigree and for any club outwith Celtic and Rangers to have so many internationals is incredible, really.
“Having someone like Neil at the club is a major factor when it comes to attracting that calibre of player. He is an excellent manager and his reputation as a player was magnificent.
“He has shown since he came to Hibs that he is able to build a team, bring in quality and get the team competing towards the top of Scottish football. Even after losing an entire midfield, he has done it again.
“The only problem Hibs might have over the next 12 to 18 months, in my opinion, is holding on to the manager. I think we are lucky to have him because if I was a chairman looking for a winner and someone to turn a club around, I’d be knocking down his door.”
And Murray, who represented Scotland six times during his career, believes that wealth of experience means there is no chance of the Hibees being overawed when they travel to face Celtic on Saturday.
“Bigger occasions, serious pressure and massive games create a really strong mentality in any player,” continued Murray, part of the last Hibs side to win at Parkhead in January 2010. “International football provides all that.
“That only makes you stronger as a player and, when matches like Saturday at Celtic Park come around, you are more capable of handling that.
“Celtic are still the best team in the league. They have the resources and the most talented players, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Hibs have got a fantastic chance.
“It has been a really interesting start to the Premiership season in general, and a shot in the arm for Scottish football. The standard and competitiveness is creeping back and people are starting to take notice.”
Murray believes that sense of excitement will reach fever pitch if Hibs stun Brendan Rodgers’ men to announce themselves as bona fide title challengers, while also buoying the likes Hearts and Rangers.
“Can a team other than Celtic win the league? You just never know,” he added. “These are the type of weekends that will tell you if it’s going to be a real title race or not.
“If Hibs can go to Celtic and get something, then they will start to believe – and every other club up there will think ‘why not us, too?’
“Hearts, Aberdeen and Rangers will all be watching the game with interest and if any of these sides can get to January within touching distance of the top, then it would generate fantastic interest and excitement.”
ADAM BOGDAN (Hungary): 20 Caps
CHARALAMPOS MAVRIAS (Greece): 5 Caps
DARYL HORGAN (Ireland): 6 Caps
EFE AMBROSE (Nigeria): 51 Caps
EMERSON HYNDMAN (United States): 2 Caps
OFIR MARCIANO (Israel): 11 Caps
JAMIE MACLAREN (Australia): 6 Caps
LEWIS STEVENSON (Scotland): 1 Cap
MARK MILLIGAN (Australia): 71 Caps
MIQUEL NELOM (Netherlands): 2 Caps
STEVEN WHITTAKER (Scotland): 31 Caps
THOMAS AGYEPONG (Ghana): 5 Caps
VYKINTAS SLIVKA (Lithuania): 28 Caps