BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
OFIR MARCIANO has been the rock at the heart of Britain’s most miserly defence – however Paul Hanlon insists the Hibs back-line will not crumble without the influential Israeli.
Neil Lennon’s men have been watertight in the Championship this term, conceding just six goals on their way to the summit, with Marciano remarkably keeping seven clean sheets in his 11 appearances.
The league record is only equaled by English Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur, but they have played one game fewer than the Easter Road outfit.
Ross Laidlaw, who played four games at the start of the campaign, is the man with big shoes to fill when Falkirk arrive in the capital today – and Hanlon has no doubt he is up to the task.
“We’ve got great confidence in Ross,” said Hanlon. “That sums up the competition for places we have here. We’ve got that all over the squad and it’s healthy.
“Ross was great in the matches he played for us and I think he will be a bit disappointed to lose his place in the team. But he has been patient and it looks like he will get his chance against Falkirk.
“I’ve no worries at all about Ross slotting in behind us. He’s exactly what you want in a goalkeeper. He’s a calming influence, not too rash, a very steady keeper.
“He just does his job and does it well.
“I’m delighted with the way we have been defending this season. You always want a clean sheet and we’ve notched up a fair few so that’s good. We are not conceding many goals but, just as pleasing, we are not giving away many chances.
“I think Neil Lennon prides himself on every department. He wants us working well as a team together – and the last few weeks have been good.
“We’ve been defending from the front with the strikers and midfielders and it’s worked well. As a defender there’s nothing better than seeing our players blocking it when their defenders are trying to clear. It makes our lives a lot easier at the other end.”
Hibs have been no less impressive at the other end, scoring eight goals in their last three outings, with the increasingly pivotal Martin Boyle netting three of those.
Hanlon believes his recent form is a fitting reward for one of the most bubbly characters in the Easter Road dressing room – and someone who has waited patiently for him time to shine.
“He has been great. This is the first time that he’s had a proper run in the team for a number of weeks,” continued the former Scotland under-21 skipper.
“He’s never let being a sub get him down. He’s a lovely character to have around the place and that’s the sort of guys that you want in your team. Everyone is delighted he is doing well for the team.
“He had been in and out – starting games, then coming off the bench and making a good impact. He’s been a bit stop-start, but he’s been really great for us. His pace really frightens back four. No matter how fast defenders are, he is lighting.
“He’s chipped in with goals and probably could have scored a few more as well. His confidence is sky high right now – and I’m sure he will take that into Saturday.”
Dundee United’s midweek win over Dunfermline saw Ray McKinnon’s men draw level with Hibs at the top of the table, albeit having played a game more.
Conversely today’s visitors, Falkirk, find themselves toiling in fifth spot, nine points behind the pace-setters.
However, Hanlon insists it would be foolish to write the Bairns off in the race to the Premiership.
“It’s still really tight,” said the Easter Road stalwart. “Falkirk are a few places down right now but they are by no means out of it.”