While the process of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s has dragged out a little, the very act of putting pen to paper means we’ve reached a conclusion few foresaw occurring earlier this year.
One one hand, Lennon was walking into the perfect job in the summer of 2016. With Rangers out of the equation, his new side were already heavy favourites to lift the Scottish Championship crown when he took over. He didn’t have to do well, he just needed to avoid failing massively to add another achievement to his CV.
On the other hand, he could scarcely have found a tougher act to follow. Yes, Alan Stubbs had somewhat underachieved in regards to winning promotion - losing to Stuart McCall’s Rangers in the playoffs one year and going out to Falkirk the next - but he was still the man who brought the Scottish Cup back to Easter Road. Not only that, but he’d held one of the best derby records in recent memory, losing only once in six games and dumping Hearts out of the cup en route to the famous triumph in his final match.
And while Lennon was well on course to achieving what Stubbs couldn’t, winning the second tier title, he didn’t achieve the feat in the dominating manner everyone expected. Had Stubbs stuck around for a third season, surely he would have done just as well in the league, if not better - so the assumption went.
Lennon’s brand of forthright honesty was welcomed by a support who’d grown a little weary of the previous boss defending the team at every opportunity, but the football wasn’t quite as easy on the eye. And with little difference in results - Hibs finished with only one more point as champions as they had in coming third the season before - there still remained a sense that he hadn’t fully emerged from the shadow of the man he replaced.
That is no longer the case, and it’s down to two reasons.
The first was Lennon’s own crack at the derby. While undoubtedly playing a worse version of Hearts, the 3-1 victory at Easter Road in the fifth round replay surpassed the 1-0 triumph from the year before. Hibs were dominant throughout most of the match and the scoreline ultimately flattered their Edinburgh rivals.
The second was this past summer’s transfer window.
Lennon’s ambitions have been backed by the club’s board. With perhaps a little more to spend than previous Hibs bosses, aided by the sale of Jason Cummings, he’s attracted some real quality to the Easter Road dressing room.
His reputation has undoubtedly aided his cause. It’s hard to imagine any other manager convincing Efe Ambrose to re-sign or Anthony Stokes and Steven Whittaker to return to the club. No offence to Hibs, there’s just more money on the table from clubs down south, and that’s usually the deciding factor.
Hibs now have a team that’s got a quality starting XI with plenty of depth in reserve. Everyone, even the club’s own supporters, dismissed Lennon’s insistence that Hibs were aiming for second place this season. While it’s going to take some effort to knock off Aberdeen, this summer’s activities and the deserved 3-2 win at Ibrox has instilled a hope in such a dream, and altered expectations surrounding Lennon as merely the man to get the club out of the second tier.
Since their relegation under Terry Butcher, Hibs have been a club transformed. Having made it back to where they belong they are not merely content on standing still. Teams of the past seemed to do just that, and the inevitable malaise led to their downfall. Looking forward, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable candidate to keep the motor accelerating than the combative driver currently at the wheel.
Manager and club are going from strength to strength. And, while the going is still good, it’s difficult to imagine an opportunity that would pry Lennon away. Clubs down south, especially those at the level Lennon sees himself at, will not so easily forget his time at Bolton, while Celtic are the only likely candidate in Scotland who would, or could, snatch him from his current role.
It was once assumed that Lennon was biding his time until a bigger job came along. Whether that’s still true or not, the signing of a new contract, along with the ambition shown by the club, puts such doubt to the back of everyone’s minds - along with Alan Stubbs.