Lithuanians can give Hibs physical edge, says Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon has added a physical presence to a squad which has a blend of youth and experience. Picture: SNS.
Neil Lennon has added a physical presence to a squad which has a blend of youth and experience. Picture: SNS.
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Having muscled their way back into the top flight, Hibernian manager Neil Lennon is determined his men will not be knocked off their stride.

The Premiership newcomers have their final League Cup group match to contend with, away to Alloa Athletic this afternoon, but will then switch attention to the start of league duty next weekend.

The arrival of the latest signings, Lithuanians Deivydas Matulevicius and Vykintas Slivka has bolstered the challenge, according to the Easter Road manager, who has already tied up several of their star performers from last term’s promotion season, and reinforced the ranks with some other key arrivals.

“I think you always need a physical presence and Deivydas certainly will bring that,” said Lennon. “We needed it in the Championship last year and we had [Grant] Holt come in and he gave us that presence at the top end of the pitch. It is especially important when we get into the winter months and the pitches start to cut up and the conditions are a little bit more difficult to play in. Deivydas will certainly fill that role.”

His colleague, who has spent the past five years in Italy and joins on a three-year deal from Juventus, is another force to be reckoned with. Both men are above six foot tall and claim to be looking forward to the hustle and bustle of the Scottish game.

“Slivka is a talented, technical player who has a goal in him and has good legs and that is what you need. I like my teams to have a physical presence about them anyway,” said Lennon, who admitted he has had his eye on the 22-year-old for a while.

“My chief scout showed me some footage of him last season and I liked what I saw. But it was too early to make a decision on him so we have kept an eye on him and he ended up being a free and we have got him on a three-year contract.

“Hopefully he can adapt to the game and there may even be a re-sale value on him later on, which, for a young player, is what you are always looking for.”

Despite his age, it is the experience that both players can bring that proved a key factor in Lennon recruiting them. With seven new signings, the fact they come with a combined tally of international caps that edges to almost two centuries, Lennon has tried to ensure he has the legs and the nous to compete effectively in the top tier of the Scottish game.

“Yeah, [that experience] is good but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” he added. “But we have youth in there as well. We have [Ryan] Porteous and [Oli] Shaw and Fraser Murray, so there is a good blend.

“We have a lot of players who have played at this level before and at an even higher level, so I think we have done some great business. I am very pleased [with the way things are going] and the squad is starting to take shape.

“We are playing well. There have been definite improvements in the games as we have gone along. We have the two Lithuanian boys and [Darren] McGregor, [Dylan] McGeouch and [Paul] Hanlon have all to come back into the team from Tuesday night. But we still put on a great performance and we are looking good, but I am not getting carried away.£

Against Arbroath in midweek, Hibs swarmed forward and created chance after chance. They will come up against higher-ranked opposition in the league in the coming weeks, but Lennon says the performance was encouraging as the club targets another lengthy cup run.

“It is about sealing qualification [for the knockout stage]. We need to get the maximum points available to us to get us into the next round, but, obviously, although we are looking good already, another game will do no harm at all and then we have another week, which is a long time pre-season, to get the fitness and football ready [for the new Premiership season],” he said. “But I have been very pleased with what I have seen so far.”

Long-term injury absentee Paul Hanlon is another source of positivity, as he edges closer to full match fitness, according to his manager, who is relishing the thought of having the defender back at his disposal.

“He will not be in contention for a start, but he will be in the squad. He has had a good week. He played an hour on Sunday [against Selkirk]. He is still a little bit short, cardiovascular-wise, so you may or may not see him, but it is great to have him back.”