Neil Lennon has not totally given up hope of having John McGinn in his side for the crucial head to head with Falkirk next weekend. But he accepts holding on to his star midfielder longer term may be becoming more and more unlikely.
The Hibernian manager saw goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and midfielder McGinn called up by Israel and Scotland respectively but the Leith side are unable to get a postponement of the Championship clash with their title rivals, as clubs must be missing at least three players to justify a fixture amendment.
Scotland are due to play a friendly against Canada on Wednesday, before they even contemplate the do or die World Cup qualifier against Slovenia on the Sunday and Lennon says that, depending on manager Gordon Strachan’s team selections, there may be some scope for recalling McGinn in time for club duty.
“I’ve not spoken to Gordon so I don’t know what his plans are for John,” said Lennon. “I’d assume he will be involved in some capacity in the Canadian game and maybe I will speak to Gordon after that about what his plans are for the weekend. It would still depend how much John plays on the Wednesday and whether he comes through it unscathed. But I have left it with Gordon.”
With nine games of the league campaign remaining, the Easter Road side all but ejected Dundee United from the chase last weekend and the next trio of games could go a long way to sealing the title and promotion to the Premiership. All three are at home and while the first, tomorrow afternoon against Dumbarton, is the priority for now, everyone associated with the club know that the following tussles, against their main challengers Falkirk and Morton, will have a massive bearing on the season’s success or failure.
Which is why Lennon would love to have McGinn at his disposal when Peter Houston’s men come calling.
“I would. Absolutely,” he said. “But I’m not going to put pressure on anyone. I think it is a testament to John that he is playing in the Championship and has made the Scotland squad on a consistent basis. He has got better and better as the season’s gone on and I think we are really seeing the best of him now. The injury curtailed some of his performances earlier in the season but now he is at the top of his game and playing superbly well. He thoroughly deserves his call-up.
“He is a super player and when he doesn’t play you can feel his absence, not just on the field but off it as well, such is his personality.”
McGinn’s contribution and his willingness to improve and rise to the occasion are attributes appreciated by his club and international managers but they are also attracting the attention of several other clubs, with Sunderland boss David Moyes the latest credited with an interest.
Lennon hates to countenance losing the young midfielder but concedes that the prospects of holding on to him are growing tougher with every influential showing. “It’s just speculation. He could have been watching [Efe] Ambrose or Andrew [Shinnie], we don’t know,” said Lennon.
“We have had this a long time, with the likes of John and Jason [Cummings], but it is outwith my control. I want them to stay longer term but if you look at the progress they are making, it may be impossible to keep them. I don’t know. We will be prepared for that eventuality at some stage but John seems pretty happy with how things are going for him here at the moment. I think the club has been good for him. He has raised his profile here and won another major trophy, after winning the League Cup with St Mirren, and he has made it into the Scotland team, so his profile has been really lifted, by his own performances but also the stage the club have given him as well.”
Even if their may be new pastures beckoning, the primary aim remains winning the title for Hibernian. It was something the likes of McGinn had hoped to do last season. The Scottish Cup served as a better than decent consolation prize but everyone in the dressing room knows that they enter the home straight in fine fettle this year, although Lennon is still warning against complacency.
“We’re getting there, I think the Dundee United game psychologically was very significant in the context of the season,” he added. “We’ve put ourselves in a strong position. We’ve got six home games in the remaining nine and it’s really important we hammer home the advantage. But it’s far from a foregone conclusion, Falkirk have put a very good run together and Morton are having a fantastic season. We know they have to play each other and Dundee United, and the beauty of this league is that teams are going for promotion, play-offs places, fighting against relegation so a lot of teams still have a lot to play for.
“Dumbarton had a great win last week, they’ve been a difficult nut to crack. But we know if we can win the game, it puts pressure on Falkirk and Morton, who play later on. It’s not a case of teams putting pressure on us, it’s a case of us putting pressure on everyone else.”