Hibs ace Ofir Marciano determined to shut out old boss Neil Lennon

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OFIR MARCIANO will always appreciate Neil Lennon pushing him to the limit.

However, the Hibs number one is adamant no-one sets loftier goals than himself.

Lennon was the man who brought Marciano to Scotland in August 2016, snapping up the Israel internationalist during his time in the Easter Road hot-seat.

Ofir Marciano playing for Israel | Hibs news
Marciano was brought to Scottish football by Neil Lennon (Pic: Botend)

The impressive shot-stopper initially arrived on loan from Ashdod and a string of superb showings in their Scottish Championship-winning campaign convinced Lenny to make the move permanent.

While Lennon moved on last February and ultimately returned to Celtic, Marciano remains a fixture between the sticks for the capital club – now boasting 123 appearances – and is arguably in the form of his life.

The goals Hibs shipped in last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Rangers were the first strikes he had conceded from open play all season – and he will line up against his old gaffer today with his confidence sky-high.

Marciano said: “Neil brought me here and gave me my chance in Scotland. I think I did well for him and I really appreciate him as a manager and a person.

“I’m happy that I had someone who pushed me every day. Expectations are high with Neil Lennon.

“But you are the one who needs to set standards and expectations – you cannot progress unless you are also pushing yourself.

“It was a good combination for me.”

Lennon’s ceaseless demands resulted in the Hibees qualifying for Europe in their first full season back in the Premiership in 2017/18, reaching heights that they have not threatened to scale again until their excellent start to this term.

Weighing up the classes of 2018 and 2020, Marciano added: “It’s nice to make comparisons when we are back towards the top of the league, but the key will be to stay there.

“Even on the tough days, can we still get a good result? That’s why the big teams are always at the top throughout the whole season.”

Marciano’s impressive exploits at club level have been mirrored on the international stage, with the 30-year-old cementing his place as Israel’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of next month’s European Championship play-off against Scotland.

It is a far cry from when he found himself benched by Paul Heckingbottom towards the tail end of the Englishman’s tenure. Chris Maxwell, rarely the safest pair of hands, was regularly selected ahead of Marciano and he was seriously considering his future.

The arrival of head coach Jack Ross last November perhaps salvaged his Hibs career.

Marciano continued: “I always believe in myself, no matter what happens in my career. It is always up to me and my decisions.

“Obviously, there are things you cannot control and sometimes you need to accept that – but then you need to come in the following day and work as hard as you can to improve your game and improve your confidence.

“This is something I am always telling myself; you cannot control everything, but you CAN dedicate your life to football, which is what I have done by moving to a foreign country and putting all my eggs in one basket.”

And an appearance at next summer’s Euros would be the ideal way to cap a standout campaign, with Israel seeking to reach their first finals since 1970 – putting Scotland’s own 22-year exile in stark perspective.

Looking to the October 8 showdown at a deserted Hampden, Marciano said: “We haven’t been at a big tournament for a long time and we know the game coming up is our most important.

“In two months’ time we might be in the Euros – we have that chance.

“But first we have to try and be at our best and get past Scotland at Hampden, and then we will have another tough game [against Norway or Serbia]. First things first.”

FUTURE

Marciano, meanwhile, is out of contract next summer and concedes he is no closer to penning a new deal with Hibs.

He is the picture of contentment on and off the pitch; settled in Musselburgh with his wife, Shelley, and two-year-old boy, Sun, who was born during his time in Scotland. Hardly someone itching for a move.

Nevertheless, Marciano’s form will undoubtedly attract suitors who will be able to speak to the former Mouscron man from January.

He said: “We always have ambitions to reach our best and be at the best places – but at the moment I am in a great place.

“I am happy at this club, my family are settled here and this is the only thing I am worried about. I want to be as good as I can here and no-one knows what the future will bring.

“At the moment we’re just focusing on playing well, we don’t think about the future too much.”

 
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