Alex McLeish was at Easter Road on Friday night as Hibs proved too strong for rivals Hearts with a win that was rapturously received by the home support, and one that kept them very much in the hunt for a third-place finish.
The performance also gave McLeish, recently named Scotland manager for a second time, reason to ruminate over the form of several Hibs players who have adapted so well to life back in the top flight.
Dylan McGeouch was outstanding in the derby win and his club manager Neil Lennon has promoted his claim for a national call-up.
McLeish will name his first squad tomorrow and whether or not it includes McGeouch, he is unlikely to overlook John McGinn, who had played his way into his predecessor Gordon Strachan’s squads despite operating in the Scottish Championship on club duty.
However, others are hoping they have done enough to force their way into his thinking. Last year Paul Hanlon was touted as a possible answer to the defensive problems at Scotland level. That never materialised under Strachan, but Hanlon, pictured, did receive a call-up from SFA performance director Malky Mackay who took temporary charge for last year’s friendly defeat by Holland.
The focus, Hanlon says, is primarily on delivering for Hibs. Yet after welcoming new son Ollie into the world, a testimonial year being announced and a victory over Hearts that reasserted Hibs’ recent dominance of the fixture, he says that being named in McLeish’s squad would be icing on the cake.
“It is at the back of my mind and I am aware when it is being announced,” said Hanlon. “I was in the last squad for Holland but it is a different manager now and it is just a case of playing well when I can and hopefully catching the eye of the manager. If I am selected I will be delighted.”
If he is included he does not expect to be the only Hibs representative. “When we were playing in the Championship my answer was always that we needed to be playing up at the top end of the Premiership to say we were in with a real chance of a Scotland call-up,” he added. “But now, playing at a club like Hibs and being in a good league position, I think we have a much better chance of being involved, all of us, not just me. I think we have a number who could potentially step up. Our league position shows we are a match for anyone in this league when we are playing well.”
Lennon hailed Hanlon as one of the men whose form has been exceptionally steady. “He has been so consistent this season. He is a really, really good player,” said the Easter Road manager.
Of McGeouch’s chances of being included in McLeish’s squad, Lennon added: “I think he is playing well enough to maybe have a look in. It is his first real season of consistent football because he has had a lot of niggling injuries, but we are seeing the best of him now. I think he has been outstanding this season. He is one I appreciate because he plays a similar game to myself, although he is so comfortable on the ball, reads the game brilliantly and he has got stronger. Normally he would be on his backside with people knocking him over but he is riding challenges now and he can see a pass.
“The [Scotland] midfield is good, though, and I don’t want to push people but can he handle the environment? Well he has played pretty well at this level and has been one of the players of the season.
“The only thing missing is goals. If you get that then you can talk about him in the same vein as McGinn. But he is different and has become more of a holding type of midfielder who likes the game in front of him where he can see everything. McGinn has a bit of both but they dovetail beautifully together.”