OPPORTUNITY knocks for whoever Hibernian eventually settle on as their new manager. There is a school of thought that it can be easier to take over a decent team that is struggling and try to imbue them with confidence which is the situation Neil Lennon’s successor will inherit.

This has been an underwhelming campaign on the back of the last two years when Lennon led Hibs to the Championship title and then into fourth place in the Premiership, but it means there is little pressure on the new man in the early few months to achieve anything more tangible than a decent effort to claim a top-six place. The expectation at that point will be a summer rebuild of the squad and then a genuine push to contend with Aberdeen, Hearts and Kilmarnock next season. A club of Hibs’ size, stature and support demands as much.

Lennon, though, will be a hard man to replace. His personality and background at Celtic made him a big presence at Hibs and helped elevate the club to wider prominence. There was always a story with Lennon, a man never short of an opinion or a willingness to voice it.

He backed it up with results, though, until this season when there has evidently been an element of disruptive discord behind the scenes. Neither party has been willing – or permitted – to say too much about the reasons for his departure but it is undoubtedly to Hibs’ detriment. Many wondered if Lennon would bounce back from his troublesome spell managing Bolton Wanderers but he grew into the Hibs job and made a solid success of it.

The leading candidate mentioned as his successor – Michael Appleton – would not arrive with Lennon’s reputation which will feel underwhelming to supporters but may also allow him to bed in without other distractions. You don’t always need to be a big name or a former player at a club to succeed as a manager but, without either element to fall back on, any new arrival will always need to win over a sceptical fan base.

And the Hibs fans are right to be wary. The Easter Road club has a fairly wretched record when it comes to managerial appointments prior to Lennon; none of Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Colin Calderwood, Pat Fenlon or Terry Butcher can be considered a success, while Alan Stubbs ended their long wait for a Scottish Cup win but couldn’t get them out of the Championship. Lennon was the first since John Collins more than a decade ago to put together a winning team that also entertained.

Hibs remain a modern, ambitious club led by chief executive Leeann Dempster. There remains something curious, however, about the nature of Lennon’s suspension and subsequent exit, as if both parties realised they had messed up in some regard and thought it more prudent to simply shake hands and say no more about it.

Dempster’s attempts to defuse rising speculation by insisting in an interview that the club is not “in turmoil” or a “shambles” seemed to have the opposite effect to her intention and must have been an alarming thing for managerial candidates to hear. Wait, the club is in turmoil?

The hope must be, then, that any behind-the-scenes conflict has concluded with Lennon’s departure. If so, his successor can begin his tenure with confidence. There is a crux of a decent squad there – players like Ryan Porteous, Martin Boyle, and Stevie Mallan, with Scott Allan returning in the summer – although the new manager will wish to put his own stamp on things, especially on a defensive unit that, with Porteous injured, is all pushing or beyond 30 years old.

Lennon had a vision of Hibs pushing for second place this year but lost key players in the summer and never came close to achieving that goal. But, backed properly in the transfer market, there is no reason why his successor can’t take up that baton on his behalf. Hibs have the resources. The key question is whether they still have the ambition.

SCOTTISH football remains compelling but, at the top end, no longer competitive. Amid the glut of goals, red cards, and other talking points that lit up a fascinating midweek Premiership card, it almost went unnoticed that it also effectively marked the end of the four-team title race that had been a talking point throughout the first half of the season. We may one day see a team outside of Glasgow crowed Scottish champions for the first time since 1985 but it won’t be this year.

Aberdeen and Kilmarnock have both made a valiant attempt to keep up but have dropped points recently at inopportune times. Both now trail Celtic by 11 points, bringing to fruition Derek McInnes’ assertion in January that nobody would get close to the defending champions come the run-in. That felt defeatist at the time but perhaps was just McInnes painting a realistic picture of where each of the contenders find themselves.

It seems hard to believe that, not so long ago, there had been even a sliver of a chance that Celtic might not win their eighth consecutive championship but, guarding a six-point lead with just 13 games left, only a collapse of Devon Loch proportions can deny them now. And there is nothing in the make-up of Brendan Rodgers’ squad that suggests that is even remotely likely.