Hibs boss reckons Hanlon can handle Hoops

HIBS boss John Hughes today backed Easter Road kid Paul Hanlon to rise to the challenge of blunting the threat of Celtic sharpshooters Marc-Antoine Fortune and Georgios Samaras.

Hughes was at McDiarmid Park to see Fortune score twice and Samaras once as Celtic came from behind to beat St Johnstone and knows the threat they'll pose as he takes Hibs to the east end of Glasgow tomorrow night.

But while admitting it will be a "big ask" of Hanlon to repel the Hoops strikeforce, Hughes has no concerns when it comes to a player who turned 20 only a week ago.

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Although Hughes sees Hanlon's long-term future in central defence, his appearances in a green and white shirt had been confined, until Saturday's 5-1 hammering of Hamilton, to left-back. Against Accies, however, Hanlon partnered skipper Chris Hogg in the heart of Hibs' defence with Ian Murray moving to the left of the back four.

And with Sol Bamba highly unlikely to return from the disappointment of the Ivory Coast's exit from the African Cup of Nations in time for kick-off, Hughes insisted he'd have no hesitation in persisting with that partnership tomorrow night.

He said: "It's all part of Paul's education. With Hamilton playing with one striker we felt it was a chance to get him in at centre-half knowing he could work with Chris to snuff out big Mickael Antoine-Curier. Paul acquitted himself very well."

Hughes says both Hanlon andDavid Wotherspoon will have a big part to play as Hibs target third position.

"I felt both Paul and David, two boys who have come through the system here, were outstanding against Accies. I think if you'd told David at the start of the season he'd play 15 or 20 games he'd have bitten your hand off."