BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON reckons Hibs could face a battle to hold on to Efe Ambrose after insisting that the Nigerian internationalist is in the form of his life.
The 29-year-old has been pivotal in an impressive run of three successive victories, helping the capital club keep clean sheets in each of those outings and roar into third spot in the Premiership ahead of today’s visit of Dundee.
That has come as no surprise to Lennon, who brought the player to Celtic in 2012 and, even when he was being maligned for high-profile errors, has never wavered in his belief that Ambrose has the pedigree and quality to star at the highest level.
The Hibs head coach believes Ambrose, who penned a two-year deal in the summer, is illustrating exactly why he boasts an Africa Cup of Nations winners’ medal, six major honours with Celtic and a wealth of Champions League experience – and he does not expect that to go unnoticed.
Lennon lauded: “It wouldn’t surprise me if there is interest in Efe. If he keeps playing the way he has been his stock will rise.
“This is a player who has reached the last-16 in the Champions League. He’s also won the African Nations Cup and played in the World Cup. He has massive pedigree. I think he was a bit maligned here for a while, maybe made a scapegoat.
“At Celtic, if things are going it’s the best thing in the world – then you make a mistake and you are under the spotlight. You have to show a bit of character, a bit of personality. He has that in abundance.
“Now he is playing serenely. He has been superb, really composed. His timing in the air is excellent and, with the ball at his feet, he brings an extra dimension to the way we want to play. I am seeing the player I know he is.
“How long we can keep him for in this form, I don’t know.”
While the chase for a European place for Hibs is ample motivation, Lennon knows Ambrose is also been driven on by the prospect of reaching next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Ambrose has 51 caps for Nigeria, however his last game for the Super Eagles came 20 months ago in a Nations Cup qualifier against Egypt.
“That’s important for him to knock on the door and try and get back into that squad as well – he is more than capable of doing that.
“He is still a big name over there, he has more than 50 caps and he is only 29. He is at his peak. Now he is back playing hopefully he can start asking a few questions.”
The rock-solid influence of Ambrose has also benefited Paul Hanlon, with the duo former a superb partnership in the heart of defence – a fact acknowledged when the 27-year-old received his maiden senior Scotland call-up this week.
He will join up with Malky Mackay’s squad at the start of next week and could make his international debut against the superstar of The Netherlands at Pittodrie on Thursday evening.
Lennon lauded: “Paul was magnificent on Tuesday night so the call-up has clearly given him a real shot in the arm.
“It was thoroughly deserved. I think he has got the game for it and he is showing that now with his really consistent performances.
Hibs are seeking to continue their blistering form against Dundee, who have crashed to the foot of the table following four successive defeats, piling the pressure on boss Neil McCann.
He added: “I hope Neil turns it around. What he needs to do is get a win – hopefully not today – and build from there. Psychologically that would give them a big lift.
“But it’s a tough league. I have certainly found that since coming back, there are no easy games, no gimmies. What he needs to do is find the right balance of playing football and keeping clean sheets as well.”