Hibernian have shown in their dealings with Premiership sides in the past three seasons that they are a top flight club in all but name. This year they saw off Heart of Midlothian with ease in the Scottish Cup before succumbing narrowly to Aberdeen in the semi-final. That defeat was only their second in 90 minutes across 14 games played against top-flight opposition. Hibs won an impressive 50 per cent.
Unlike their city rivals, Hibs need evolution rather than revolution. Lennon has a reliable and solid spine to make the jump from the second tier. Despite his error for Ryan Christie’s goal in the first half, retaining Ofir Marciano would be a coup. The defence is strong and versatile, there is an abundance of talent and balance in the midfield, and in attack they have a goal scorer.
As has been the case for three years, Hibs perhaps lack quality and creativity from wide areas. They’ve already begun to solve that particular issue with the savvy signing of Danny Swanson from St Johnstone on a pre-contract agreement. It was clear that this wasn’t going to become a saga, in fact it may just be the most predictable transfer of the summer. Swanson was pining for a move to join his boyhood heroes alongside good friend Darren McGregor. On the day of Hibs’ Championship win he posted a photo with McGregor accompanied by a ‘Leith Legend #ylt’ caption before a cryptic meme earlier in the week: “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”
Enough of the preamble. This signing is good business for both parties. Andrew Shinnie will rejoin his parent club, while Martin Boyle is a completely different player who relies on his pace and one who has question marks hanging over his ability to step up to the top flight, though is still keeping the more accomplished Chris Humphrey out of the team.
Swanson is an experienced and proven Premiership talent. He impressed under Craig Levein at Dundee United, earning a move south of the border. In two spells at St Johnstone, Tommy Wright has extracted the best out of him, granting him the platform to create from midfield, the artist among the artisans.
The Perth Saints are renowned for their structure and organisation. It is about the collective rather than the individual. Wright and Swanson have spoken about the extra wiggle room afforded Swanson. He can move in from the wing, leave his position and scavenge for space before using his scalpel to break open the opposition.
He probably regrets rejecting the opportunity to make his move to Perth permanent after his first spell, opting to join Hearts where he wasn’t given the same focus, the same responsibility. He was just another player, rather than the player. It is every likelihood that it was the move to Gorgie he was referencing with his cryptic Instagram post.
Back at St Johnstone, his productivity has increased no end. There were nine goals and five assists by the end of October. While six were penalties, he was - and still is - a constant menace cutting in from his preferred left position before letting loose. One such fine strike came against Hearts in the League Cup, finding the postage stamp, first class.
Hibs will get the best out of him by playing him from the left. He is more than able on the right and can even play centrally but he is a stereotypical modern day wide man in that he wants to start from the wing than simply play on it. He is capable of finding those half-spaces which are so tricky to pick up: the box in front of the right-back and right centre-back and behind the midfield. There he can combine, shoot or play a devilish pass.
Much has been made of his scoring numbers this season, albeit goals have dried up of late with only one since 3 December, but his passing is very underrated. He can penetrate spaces and angles which others are too scared or incapable of doing. Like Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible in his heyday, potting a difficult black, he can provide the difficult assist - around the corner or through the legs.
One of his favoured moves is the reverse pass across his body as he moves infield from the left flank. It would be no surprise if Lennon is already imagining the relationship developing between Swanson and Cummings: the madcap striker making a diagonal run behind the opposition defence latching on to a slick pass on his stronger left foot and firing across the goalkeeper.
The 30-year-old could provide flashbacks of a certain Derek Riordan. The current Edinburgh City forward liked the left flank so he could shift the ball and shoot with his right. Team-mates were understanding of his reticence in putting in the defensive yards, doing the running for him because they knew he could be the difference. It is hard to see Lennon letting Swanson off without graft but he is equally capable of game-defining moments.
Lennon is not the sort to allow players to drift. That has been proven vociferously by some of his comments about John McGinn and Cummings. It is something which even Swanson may admit to; drifting, not making the most of his talent. If he is not on top of his physique he can appear heavy, but he has spoken of becoming more professional in terms of his nutrition.
Then there is possible attitude problems, perhaps related to his professionalism. Those accusations would have taken more credence following the incident with team-mate Richard Foster at New Douglas Park. It seems he was accused of not working hard enough, such is St Johnstone’s collective effort in games. If that was the case it was likely only an isolated one. Wright, like Lennon, does not suffer fools gladly.
For Swanson, age shouldn’t be an issue, especially if he is more professional in his approach to nutrition and conditioning. He doesn’t rely much on his pace, although he is useful on the counter-attack, it is more his technique which allows him to cause danger. It is an exciting prospect for Hibs fans to add his creativity alongside the likes of McGinn and Cummings in a team which is likely to be more proactive.
Fans of St Johnstone may point towards his drop in form of late but what fans often forget is that off-field issues can have an effect. That could be the case with Swanson who has had a difficult time in recent months following the death of a close friend.
He now has five games to help St Johnstone cement a European spot before a new era in his career, at the club he supports, alongside his pal McGregor, in a team which should illuminate his talents.