Florian Kamberi set for big role in act two of Neil Lennon Hibs drama

At the centre of the furore when Neil Lennon acrimoniously exited Hibernian, Florian Kamberi will be hoping he can play a pivotal role when his former boss returns to Easter Road tomorrow.

Swiss striker Florian Kamberi has been defended by Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom over claims by St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright that he dived. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

A player with a point to prove after he was singled out by Lennon as the Leith side struggled to force their way into the top six earlier in the league campaign, the former star striker turned scapegoat has regained his confidence and his scoring form under new boss Paul Heckingbottom.

With two goals in the manager’s first three games at the helm, the Swiss 23-year-old is edging back to the kind of form that helped him finish last term as the club’s top scorer and enticed Lennon to prioritise turning the short-term loan deal into a permanent contract last summer.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

But the fact that relationship soured could be to Hibs’ advantage according to Lennon’s successor, with Kamberi one of the players who will have added incentive when the side face up to Celtic in their Scottish Cup quarter-final.

Heckingbottom said: “That’s natural. It’s only because of the events surrounding Celtic and Neil that you’re talking about that, but there is always an element of that in every game.

“Players going back to previous clubs, players playing against previous managers, players playing against former team-mates, players playing against friends. It’s in every single game. There is a subconscious element to that. Regardless of the players sitting here saying it’s no different, there is something different subconsciously.

“As you get older, you learn to use it rather than let it hinder you. We all know what’s at stake, a place in the semi-finals of this trophy. That’s what our focus is on rather than anything else.”

Like everyone else, the newcomer to Scottish football has watched the drama unfold at Celtic Park this week and recognises that there will now be a colourful subtext to this weekend’s fixture but says he and his players will try to shut out distractions and focus on the job at hand.

“It’s a big enough game as it is. A Scottish Cup quarter-final, against the champions, the previous manager,” added Heckingbottom, pictured.

“It’s all getting built up and I hope the game and the football matches that build-up. But for us it remains a game against the best team in the land and we are going to give it everything to try to win it.”

But rather than build players up or cut them down, the Yorkshireman believes it is his job to get the best out of each and hone their attributes.

“We’re not going to buy a finished article here,” he said. “What we can do is buy players who fit into the squad dynamic and who can possibly be developed further. I’m sure that was the intention when Flo was brought in and I see no reason why that can’t be the case.

“Athletically he’s good enough. He’s got the physique, he’s got the pace and that’s a stand-out, especially if you’re looking at what you need to go on to another level,

“He’s done well. I’ve been really pleased with him and Sparky [Marc McNulty]. We’ve asked a lot of them and they’ve complemented each other really well. They know that we’ve got other players who aren’t in the team breathing down their necks in training but at the moment they deserve the plaudits because they’re winning games for us.”

McNulty scored both goals as Hibs defeated St Johnstone 2-1 on Wednesday to maintain Heckingbottom’s 100 per cent record as manager but it was Kamberi who earned the equalising penalty. Much to the chagrin of Saints boss Tommy Wright, who assassinated the character of the Hibs forward, claiming he had conned the referee.

But the Easter Road boss defended his player and said it was time for people in the Scottish game to stop pointing the finger and start accepting responsibility for their own shortcomings.

“There’s contact there and it’s up to the ref to give it, isn’t it? That’s another thing I’ve noticed up here – the refs get a hell of a hammering with a lot of people deflecting things.

“In regard to that particular incident, if it’s outside the box would it be a free-kick? Yeah, it probably would so why would it be any different inside the box? I’d be looking at my defenders asking why he’s going to tackle someone on the byeline facing away from goal. That’s the first thing I’d 
be asking.”

Heckinbottom added that it would be unfair if some post-match swipes sullied his player’s reputation.

“Of course it’s disappointing if that happens. It’ll worry me if refs get influenced by it which I suppose is what people’s intentions are. But, regardless of what decisions they make, good or bad, whether I agree with them or not, referees are honest and they’re trying their best and that’s all they can do.”