BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
PAUL HANLON has backed Stevie Mallan to follow in the footsteps of John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch by using Hibs as a springboard to the Scotland squad.
The 22-year-old has been a revelation since arriving from Barnsley in a six-figure deal during the summer, with his brace in Saturday’s 6-0 demolition of Hamilton taking his tally for the campaign to nine.
Promoting Hibs’ Darts Day, which will see arrows legend Gary Anderson headline at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange on December 9 as part of Hanlon’s Testimonial year celebrations, the defender confesses that he expects Mallan to hit the bulls-eye every time he steps up to a dead ball.
Hanlon smiled: “It’s getting to the stage where you are disappointed if Stevie [Mallan] doesn’t hit the target. He is so accurate and the way he strikes the ball is incredible.
“In terms of long-range shooting I can’t remember seeing anyone like him in Scotland. He is deadly from 25 yards and hopefully, he’s the next one who progresses into the full Scotland set-up.
“He does do a bit of practicing but I think a lot of the work was done when he was young, he perfected it and his technique is incredible. He keeps on top of it – hits quite a lot of free-kicks after training – and it just shows if you practice enough you can do what you want.
“His quality is great, but it’s the consistency too – he’s always on the money and we have scored a few goals from his set-piece deliveries as well.”
Mallan will have a wonderful opportunity to underline his quality following the international hiatus, with the Hibees facing an onerous trip to Celtic Park on Saturday week.
That was the stage where McGinn massively enhanced his reputation last season, running Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham ragged and scoring a double in a 2-2 draw. It is a platform on which Hanlon reckons Mallan will also thrive.
He continued: “I think that [Celtic Park] probably the next test for him. He has done well for us – but you are judged against the top teams in the league so I don’t see any reason why he can’t do well there.
“He is a confident boy and when he gets into those shooting positions he’s deadly.
“It’s a great place to go and play football as a footballer those are the games you want to be involved in – 60,000 sell-out crowds and great pitch. It’s an exciting, enjoyable fixture but, at the same time, we have similar points to Celtic so we have to look to take something from it.”
As well as their mouth-watering journey to Glasgow’s East End, Hibs also face a highly-anticipated derby clash with shock Premiership leaders Hearts at Tynecastle and face Aberdeen at Pittodrie among their next three games.
Hanlon knows that will be an acid test for the Hibees as onlookers tentatively label the capital club as title challengers.
Hanlon added: “We’ve had good starts before, under Yogi [John Hughes] and Pat Fenlon -when we were top in November – but it was never spoken of as a title race.
“We will quietly keep going and see where it takes us.
“This time it is probably being mentioned more because Celtic and Rangers have had stuttering starts, but it’s a bit too early to talk about what might happen.
“We haven’t played any of the so-called bigger teams and it’s early days so we have to keep our performance levels high and see where it takes us. We’ve got a tough two games coming up after the international break and a really tough December with a lot of big games.
“Parkhead and Tynecastle will probably be a real measure of what kind of level we’re at.”