BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Match-winner Paul Hanlon has revealed Hibernian’s dressing-room chat was all about St Mirren on Sunday, such is their determination to prove they can mount a lasting title challenge to Rangers.
Hanlon’s 73rd-minute header ended Rangers’ 100 per cent Championship record and hauled Hibs to within five points of the league leaders.
The Easter Road men will now host Dundee United in their League Cup quarter-final tomorrow brimming with confidence after extending their own recent record to 10 wins and one draw from their last 11 outings.
However, Hanlon insists excitement over the cup tie was put to one side in the wake of Sunday’s electrifying 2-1 victory over Rangers in a bid to ensure they do not lose more ground at the top of the table away to St Mirren on Saturday just as soon as they have closed the gap.
Asked for his take on the magnitude of the visit of Rangers, he said: “It was probably a must-win, really. At least that’s the way I felt.
“I didn’t want Rangers getting any further away than what they already were.
“I’m just delighted we managed to close the gap, but we’ve got big games coming up now where we need to keep the momentum going.
“To be honest, it was a case after the game that we said ‘we need to beat St Mirren now’.
“And then you forget we’ve got the League Cup game on Wednesday night.
“That just shows you the focus we have on the league campaign – there’s no point in beating Rangers if you can’t beat St Mirren.
“But it’s a big game coming up against United and we’re all excited about that.”
Hanlon’s header, taking advantage of slack marking and an error from goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, was his first goal of the season and proved priceless in ensuring the three points stayed at home following Jason Cummings’ stunning opener and Darren McGregor’s own goal.
Rangers struck both the bar and post with the score still at 1-1, whilst Foderingham denied Cummings one on one, but Hanlon was thrilled to prove the difference between the teams.
He added: “It’s great. I was yet to get on the score-sheet this season, so no better way to open my account.
“You’ve got to be focused for the full 90 minutes against teams like Rangers. They’ve been flying so far this season but we did a good job on them.
“We rode our luck at times, but you’re going to have to do that in games and I’m just delighted I managed to get the winner.”
Having knocked Aberdeen out of the cup in the last round, ending the Dons’ sequence of eight consecutive wins, Hibs will now be optimistic of booking themselves a trip to Hampden for a semi-final in a competition they won in 2007.
And the presence of one of their own former managers in the opposition dugout will add another intriguing element to the tie as Mixu Paatelainen seeks to build on his first United success at the weekend.
Hanlon continued: “It was Mixu that gave me my debut. His first game in charge was my debut and I’m always grateful for that.
“But at the end of the day I’ll be looking to beat his team on Wednesday night.
“It’s a chance to show how a good team we are and how many good players we’ve got.
“We’re going into it with no fear and full of confidence. We’re really excited for it.”