Paul Hanlon insists his “daft” Hibs team-mate Jason Cummings should be judged on his performances on the pitch rather than his cocky TV interviews.
The teenage striker incurred the wrath of some viewers when he used the phrase “touch of an angel” to describe the close control that allowed him to score the first of his two goals in Monday’s 3-1 win at Ibrox.
Coming just a few months after he boasted of “opening a tin of beans” against Hamilton Accies in the first leg of last season’s relegation play-off, ex-Hibs favourite Leigh Griffiths was among those who thought the showmanship was uncalled for.
“Touch like an angel... Jesus Christ. Do a normal interview, get in changing room and celebrate. #billybigtime,” tweeted Celtic striker Griffiths.
However, Hanlon insists that Cummings’ comments should be taken with a pinch of salt as he is just a “harmless” young boy learning to deal with life in the spotlight. “I haven’t seen it again. I’ve actually been searching the internet to try and find it,” the defender said of his team-mate’s “angel” comment. “No-one has really slagged him off that much. It was more: ‘what did he say this time?’ To be fair, it was a great touch and we are all delighted for him. He works hard. He can get a bit of stick and what he says can be taken the wrong way at times, but he’s harmless. He’s just a bit daft. We’ve all done it when we were young. People see his tweets and whatever but he’s not like that – he’s harmless. Don’t forget he’s new into football as well, he has only had one full season full-time.
“People forget this is a completely different life for him. He was focused on being a gardener not that long ago and now he’s a first-team footballer at Hibs. It’s completely different. I’m sure if you give him a year or two that will be out of him and he’ll be fully focused.
“He’s doing great for us and scoring goals. He can say what he likes in post-match interviews if he keeps doing the business.”
Hanlon explained that Cummings’ presence ensures there is never a dull moment in training. And he believes the youngster’s bravado helps give his game an edge. “He takes a bit of stick but he is more than happy to give it back,” said the 24-year-old. “His confidence is infectious. He believes in his ability and that’s a great thing to have as a striker. All the best strikers in the world will tell you if you give them the ball they’ll score and he’s like that.”
Cummings, who was mainly used off the bench in the early weeks of the season, has forged a promising partnership with recently-recruited striker Dominique Malonga over the past two games as Hibs have recorded back-to-back away wins against Ross County, in the League Cup, and Rangers. Hanlon believes the French-born Congolese forward has been vital to his side’s recent form spurt.
“Jason’s developing a partnership with Dom, who has been great the last few games, his touch and his awareness has been brilliant,” said the defender. “He has held up the ball and brought other people into play, and that’s what has started most of our counter attacks.”
Another feature of Hibs’ past two games has been their switch to a 3-5-2 formation, with Hanlon at the centre of a three-man defence. “Until the Ross County game I had never played in a 3-5-2 before apart from late on in games when we were pushing for a win,” explained the centre-back. “I had never started in one since I have been a defender so it was new.
“It feels good, we feel solid and compact and the way we are hitting teams on the break is good. You could see that at Ibrox, the goals came from quick movements up the pitch and we’re catching teams out. It all starts from having a solid base at the back.”
Hanlon is confident that the last two games has showcased the real Hibs after a patchy start to the season. He acknowledges, however, that Hibs will have to cope with reverting to the role of favourites against Raith Rovers today after flourishing as underdogs in their previous two games. We have gone to Ross County who are a league above and we weren’t really expected to get anything,” he said. “We went to Ibrox and weren’t expected to get anything and won both games. The pressure is now shifting and we have to deal with that better.”
Hanlon insists last season’s 3-2 defeat at home to Raith in the Scottish Cup will have no bearing on the mindset of either team today. “Losing to Raith in the cup last season was a real low for us, it kind of started our downward spiral,” he said.
“That was a really disappointing one at home. But to be honest we’ve not thought about that game. They have different players, we have different players and a new manager so we are just going out looking forward to getting three points.”