Hibernian are not a club short of positive vibes at the moment and midfielder Danny Handling is feeding off the feelgood factor as he returns from a year-long nightmare.
The 22-year-old returned to the side for last Tuesday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Berwick Rangers at Shielfield – the same venue where he suffered a cruciate ligament injury almost exactly 12 months previously. He then scored the sixth in Thursday’s 6-1 win over League newcomers Edinburgh City at Meadowbank and is hoping to get another chance against Motherwell today, to press his claims for inclusion in new manager Neil Lennon’s squad for Thursday’s Europa League second qualifying round, first leg against Brondby at Easter Road.
“I’ll be honest, I was a little bit anxious,” said Handling of his return to the Berwick pitch where, ironically, he had previously enjoyed a successful loan spell in 2012. “I knew in the back of my mind that a cruciate is a bad injury. I was unlucky but you’ve got to move on and put it to the back of your mind. I took it in my stride and enjoyed.”
It has been a whirlwind summer for Hibs after the joy of winning the Scottish Cup, the departure of Alan Stubbs and arrival of Lennon. However, after an intense block of pre-season training the prospect of a return to European football against the Danes, who won their first qualifying round 10-1 on aggregate against Icelandic minnows Valur, is beginning to send a buzz of anticipation through the changing room.
“The boys are thinking about it, it’s not far away now,” said Hanlon. “We’ve got this game against Motherwell first, which is a good opportunity for the boys to test themselves. But the main aim is Thursday. Brondby are a good side, one of the top teams in their league, and it’s going to be a battle. But we’re a good team too, we have quality.”
Hibs’ most recent memory of European football was the traumatic 7-0 home humiliation at the hands of Malmo three years ago. Handling played in that tie but insists it is not something which haunts him and he feels that Lennon’s European experience with Celtic can prove an asset this time around.
“Yeah I played in both games against Malmo,” he said. “I thought we matched them in the first leg but obviously things didn’t go to plan at home. To be honest it’s not something I give a moment’s thought to now. It’s all about the positivity we’re feeling now. A few of us have played in Europe before but the manager brings a lot of experience of that.
“It’s something to look forward to not shy away from. It’s a dream to play in this competition. Going into the Scottish Cup final, Europe wasn’t really on anyone’s minds too much, it was all about winning that cup. But having this competition is a bonus, a massive bonus.
“It’s the kind of thing that attracts a big-name manager like Neil Lennon and big-name players. It can only be positive.”
Handling had a close bond with previous manager Stubbs, who took a close interest in the youngster’s rehab and even named him on the bench for the League Cup final against Ross County as a reward for his efforts in regaining his fitness. But the player is looking forward to working under Lennon.
“The gaffer has been good so far and we’ve been enjoying training,” he said. “It’s been high quality and intense sessions. The way the manager wants us to play is the way all teams should look to play. He wants to win games and it’s as simple as that. That’s what we need to do to win promotion.”