On a weekend when good news for Hibs was reasonably thin on the ground after their Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Aberdeen, it must have been heartening for the Easter Road faithful to hear goalkeeper Ofir Marciano say in the post-match debriefing that he wants to stay at the club beyond this season.
Signed on loan from FC Ashdod until the end of the current campaign, Marciano has been one of Hibs’ unsung heroes as they claimed the Ladbrokes Championship title and reached the last four of the Scottish Cup. Every league-winning team needs a dependable goalkeeper and the Israeli international has been just that.
The 27-year-old has kept 12 shut-outs in 27 appearances and has only shipped more than one goal on five occasions, three of those in the league. Of the 15 goals he’s lost on league duty, five have been penalties. Those are pretty good stats for any custodian, even more so a Hibs one. The previous two seasons the Hibees have spent in the Championship were plagued by too many goals being conceded. They have the meanest defence in the year this season and Marciano was the only tangible change to the defence that ended the previous campaign.
On the occasions he’s been sidelined by visa issues, injury or international duty, his deputy Ross Laidlaw has stepped in admirably too (five clean sheets in 15 matches) and there’s a case for Hibs keeping him as Marciano’s No.2 as well, but as Neil Lennon’s men move up into the top flight, they would be well advised to pull out the stops and keep the Israeli for an assault on the Premiership.
At 27 years old, Marciano is approaching the peak years of his goalkeeping career. He’s agile, has good hands and more often than not gets his positioning right, with perhaps the exception of Aberdeen’s second goal on Saturday. The defence is noticeably calmer when he’s behind them, he organises them well and his distribution is decent. What’s more, he’s now become Israel’s No.1 keeper and although he had a rough night when Spain beat them 4-1 in Valencia last month, he’s highly regarded in his homeland and will more likely hold on to the gloves than not.
Marciano has put in some key performances this season when it has mattered most. His performance against Hearts in the Scottish Cup at Tynecastle was impressive on a day when Hibs rarely looked like scoring, making important saves from Esmael Goncalves and Bjorn Johnsen. Another vital display was against Dunfermline a couple of weeks later in a 2-2 draw when he made three magnificent saves in the second half when the Pars threatened to give Hibs a beating. He made one of the best saves of the season down at Ayr in November when he managed to contort his body and claw away a close-range header at a key moment in the match. He’s not called upon that often but has that classy side to a keeper that you don’t often see at this level.
In short, Hibs have not had a No.1 of this pedigree since Swedish international Daniel Andersson back in 2004. Many have come and gone over the years. Conrad Logan departed a Hibs hero last year for exploits in the Scottish Cup, but he hardly covered himself in glory in the play-offs last season when at fault against both Raith and Falkirk and probably was not the long-term answer. Mark Oxley never really excelled despite two years at the club and had a poor shot-to-save ratio, 2007 League Cup winner Andy McNeil was error-prone, perhaps not to the same extent as Yves Ma-Kalambay, Zibi Malkowski and Simon Brown, but you get the drift here. Hibs haven’t nailed the goalkeeping role for a while. Ben Williams was perhaps the best between Andersson and Marciano but even then, Hibs got relegated with him in between the sticks.
Hibs will come under more pressure next season at the back. That much is obvious. Their back-four has top-flight experience with the exception of captain David Gray and it’s reasonable to assume that the centre-back pairing of Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon will remain. Efe Ambrose won’t be staying and Lennon has other areas of the pitch that require greater tinkering. The back four can and have coped with Premiership opposition, but it’s safe to assume more will get by them. It’s critical they have a good goalkeeper to pick up the slack.
Stable, dependable stoppers tend not to grow on trees and it’s no coincidence that Aberdeen have reached two cup finals and handsomely lead Rangers and Hearts in the race for second place since they signed Joe Lewis as their main man at the start of the season. Undone my misdemeanours of keepers such as Scott Brown and Jamie Langfield in the past, having a top keeper in the Premiership has paid off for the Dons. Hearts and St Johnstone haven’t been altogether steady with the talented but inexperienced Jack Hamilton and Zander Clark respectively and Marciano is better than anything else in the Premiership other than Lewis, Wes Foderingham and Craig Gordon. Hibs will have to look outside the box if they want to better what they have right now.
Marciano is settled in Edinburgh with his wife Shelly and is keen to stay. His career has flourished again after a loan move to Belgian club Mouscron turned sour. He knows that playing in Scotland’s top division, where fellow countryman Beram Kayal and Nir Bitton have excelled in recent years, will keep in the international fold. Moreover, if he plays well for Hibs while contracted to them, there’s no doubt he will catch the eye of others. Investing in Marciano may well bring dividend financially in the long run.
Hibs’ history with goalkeepers is chequered and if they can strike a deal with Ashdod and the player’s agent, they can make one of their most important signings ahead of their return to Scotland’s elite. In previous seasons Hibs have gone into campaigns with Graham Stack, Mark Brown, Williams, Oxley, Ma-Kalambay, McNeil, Brown and Malkowski as their goalkeepers. Marciano would be an marked upgrade on all of them and with Lennon setting high standards at the club next term, he would tick the box in an underrated yet vital position.