Neil Lennon has described signing Brandon Barker permanently as a “pipe dream” after the on-loan Manchester City winger claimed earlier this week he wants to stay at Hibs for as long as possible.
Barker seems certain to start against Aberdeen this afternoon after impressing during an explosive cameo performance in Hibs’ 2-1 defeat by Rangers on Wednesday. Barker gushed afterwards about how much he was enjoying life at Easter Road, where he is based on a season-long loan.
But Lennon dismissed the idea of being able to prise the 21-year-old away from City. He is confident further helpful links with Barker’s parent club can be established in future.
Celtic have benefitted from being viewed by the current English Premier League leaders as an excellent surrogate club. The Scottish champions have been permitted to sign Patrick Roberts, another winger, for two separate loan spells from City. But not even Celtic have been able to bring Roberts to Celtic Park on a permanent basis, not yet at least.
Lennon lamented the financial gulf that meant Hibs were not at the races when it came to following up their interest in Louis Moult this week. The Motherwell striker, out of contract at the end of this season, has agreed to join Preston North End in a £450,000 deal.
“You’re talking Man City here,” said Lennon. “You’re talking wages, you’re talking transfer fee, so it might be just a little bit out of our remit. We were quite keen on Louis Moult but he’s gone to Preston for half a million pounds. It’s very, very difficult. We’re enjoying having him [Barker] here. He’s enjoying being here. It seems to be working successfully for both parties.
“We’ll see where it goes but a permanent move would be very difficult to do I would think,” he added. “We have a good relationship with Man City. It’s basically been since the start of this year really. We would like that to continue.”
Lennon described the pacy Barker’s talents as being ‘un-coachable’. He added: “He has brought an extra dimension to the way we play. We have [Martin] Boyle one side and him the other, they are a real threat. I just enjoy watching him play. He is a throwback. He wants to get to the byeline, he wants to get inside, he has that dynamic burst of pace and he wants to take people on. Some people say his end product is not great but that’s nit-picking completely. When you have three players hanging off you and you are running 40 yards with the ball at that pace, it is a very difficult thing to do.
“He is a very exciting player. I have admired him for a long time. On Wednesday you can see why. He was breath-taking.
“I can’t coach that,” Lennon added. “It was always my job to pick up the bits for the [Henrik] Larssons, the [Didier] Agathes of this world – that is what I was paid to do. Nine times out of ten, or seven times out of ten, they got it right. And a lot of stuff he [Barker] did the other night, he got right. I am not saying he does not do his bit defensively because he does. But he is still developing. I just wish he was ours permanently.”
Barker starred as Hibs spent much of the second 45 minutes against Rangers camped in the visitors’ half. Lennon believes Hibs are in line to hand out a thrashing to someone. It just might not come today against Aberdeen, one of their rivals for second place. According to Lennon, the Pittodrie side have their “mojo” back. The manager downplayed talk of this being a “must win” match for Hibs.
“If we lose tomorrow it is not the end of the world,” he said. “I would ideally like to win then the positive slant is that you are only three behind and they [Aberdeen] have to play Celtic, and Rangers have to play Celtic. There is still a lot of football to be played.”
Lennon was still savouring the midweek performance – if not the result – against Rangers as he looked ahead to this afternoon’s televised clash.
“I think we’re due a hammering to somebody,” he said. “That’s the third game now where the opposition goalkeeper has won man of the match. We know we’re not scoring enough goals when we’re in the ascendancy. We’ve had 3-0 a couple of times but we haven’t hit home with a four or five. I’m not saying we’re going to do that tomorrow. But we’re creating enough chances to do that.”
Hibs failed to build on the early lead given to them by Lewis Stevenson and were left to chase the game after Rangers grabbed two quick goals before the break.
“What can you do about Barker hitting the post twice?” Lennon asked. “It’s a lick of paint. There’s nothing any of my strikers can do about that. So it is a lick of paint that prevents the ball going into the net.”