Hibs’ recent good form has already helped one Easter Road centre-half realise his international ambitions. Now Neil Lennon is hopeful Efe Ambrose can force his way back into Nigeria’s plans ahead of next summer’s World Cup.
Paul Hanlon received a boost earlier this week after being called up to the Scotland squad by interim manager Malky Mackay ahead of Thursday’s friendly against the Netherlands. His defensive partner Ambrose has not played for his country for three years after winning the last of his 51 caps against Congo in 2014.
The 29 year-old did not contribute to the Super Eagles’ success in reaching Russia having been dropped because he was not featuring regularly for Celtic. However, the centre-half is reaping the benefits of playing consistently at Hibs after being reunited with Lennon.
The Easter Road side could make it four wins in a row when they take on struggling Dundee this afternoon and are also striving for a fourth successive clean sheet.
Dundee, meanwhile, have lost four successive games and are without goalkeeper Scott Bain, who it’s understood has been dropped from Neil McCann’s squad after a breach of club discipline. Lennon complimented Bain by name yesterday when reflecting how the keeper kept Dundee in the game when the teams fought out a 1-1 draw at Dens Park in August.
Dundee fell to the bottom of the league after last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat against Hamilton Accies. It’s a more positive story at Easter Road, with Hibs having risen to third after picking up nine points in seven days. Ambrose and Hanlon, along with goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, have been central to this upswing in fortunes.
Lennon has called on Nigeria manager Salisu Yusuf to recognise Ambrose’s good form at the heart of the Hibs defence, with Hanlon having already been rewarded.
“I don’t know if I can affect the manager’s thinking,” he said. “Only Efe and his performances can do that.
“He is still a big man there, he has 50-odd caps and he is only 29. He is at his peak.
“Nigeria have qualified and he didn’t participate in the qualifiers because he was not playing [at Celtic]. Now he is back playing hopefully he can start asking a few questions.”
Lennon described Ambrose as performing “serenely” although quickly added: “I don’t want to tempt fate because he has always got one in him now and again.
“But 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.”
Lennon signed Ambrose for Celtic but the defender lost his way under Ronnie Deila and then was allowed to leave by Brendan Rodgers.
“There is no disgrace not to make the Celtic team,” noted Lennon. “There are a lot of good players who are on the fringes there or who have left the club and then gone on to play very, very well elsewhere.
“For me at Celtic, Efe was excellent. He was very consistent for me for three seasons. You don’t lose that. The other thing is he is a superb athlete and a consummate professional, who looks after himself very well. So I had no worries bringing him in. Now I am seeing the player I know he is.
“He is very quiet away from the place and he is a man of great faith as well,” he added.
Ambrose signed a two-year deal in the summer but Lennon expects there to be interest in the player before long.
“How long we can keep him for in this form, I don’t know,” he said. “He has his own targets as well with Nigeria having qualified for the World Cup. That’s important for him to knock on the door and try and get back into that squad – he is more than capable of doing that with the form he is showing now.”
Anthony Stokes should return to the Hibs squad after what was described as an ankle knock sustained in the 4-2 Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic a fortnight ago.
Simon Murray has deputised well, scoring twice in the last three games, including the winner against Hearts last midweek.
Lennon stressed that Dundee’s poor current form will have no bearing on this afternoon’s clash. “Dundee by all accounts are playing well and not getting results, which is the position we were in a month ago,” he said.
“It just shows how two or three results can alter the state of things. We are very wary of Dundee, they are a good footballing team. And the game at Dens Park was a very good game, very open.”