Graham vows to add to his growing Stack of clean sheets

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JUST as you might expect a striker to set himself a target for the number of goals he’d hope to claim in a season, so, too, has Hibs goalkeeper Graham Stack set his eyes on how many clean sheets he’d like.

However, ask a forward the figure he’s aiming for and the swift reply is that it’s a secret and, again, that’s just how Stack prefers to keep the number of shut-outs he’d find acceptable to himself.

What he is willing to disclose, though, is that he’s seeking to do better than last time round and, to that end, he is already up to speed, the three clean sheets equalling his tally for last season – a figure which is somewhat distorted given the recurrence of a back injury and shoulder surgery restricted him to just seven matches.

Even so, the much-travelled Stack admits he’s a bit behind schedule, making the no-scoring draw achieved at Celtic Park last weekend all the more welcome, one which he felt he was due his team-mates after gifting Neil Lennon’s side their opening goal on the first day of the season.

The 30-year-old, who saved a penalty from Gary Hooper that day but was unable to prevent Hibs going down 2-0, said: “I was delighted. You always set yourself targets and I’m slightly down as regards clean sheets.

“I also felt I had cost us a goal against Celtic at Easter Road in the first game of the season, so I was always wanting to make amends for that. Keeping a clean sheet was very pleasing, not just from a personal point of view, but for the back four and the team as a whole.”

Now Stack has his fingers crossed he’ll soon be racking up clean sheets in the way Garry O’Connor, Leigh Griffiths and co will be hoping to find themselves riding high in the goal-scoring charts.

And the fact he’s now free from the injury troubles which blighted his first two seasons at Easter Road will, he believes, help him achieve his goal.

Asked if he was willing to share his target number of clean sheets, Stack replied: “No, I always want to better what I did last season. I don‘t know what the individuals in our back four have, but certainly I’ve got a target. Certainly double figures is what I want to keep and slightly more than that.

“We shall wait and see, but certainly a clean sheet at Parkhead helps. I felt it had been a long time coming. We had conceded some sloppy goals and it was nice to go there and keep a clean sheet after conceding four in the previous midweek.

“Probably the manager has got to take a bit of credit for that as well because of the way he set us up as a team. We got pressure on the ball and didn’t let them play.”

Stack has found himself, on more than one occasion, playing behind a very inexperienced back four; three of those lining up in front of him in the east end of Glasgow were aged 21 or under – a fact he conceded perhaps placed more responsibility on his shoulders.

He said: “I’ve always said I think the team is good enough regardless of age. David Wotherspoon has got a lot of games behind him now; Paul Hanlon, too. Big David Stephens is blessed with a lot of attributes and it’s just a matter of keeping him on his toes for 90 minutes.

“But as a senior pro I feel that added pressure to try and help whenever I can. And if that means vocally and using leadership qualities, I’m prepared to do it.”

As pleasing as his shut-out in Glasgow might have been, Stack admitted clocking up so many games already this season was satisfying, helping rid him of the accusation he’s injury- prone.

Stack, who found his first season in Edinburgh brought to a premature halt after suffering an eye injury in a training ground collision with Moroccan hitman Abdesallam Benjelloun, said: “I always knew it was in me.

“People have often said: ‘He’s brilliant – when he is fit.’ Obviously you don’t want that. You want to be brilliant regardless of whether you are fit or not.

“Before I came to Hibs I’d never missed a lot of football through injuries – that was why it was frustrating for me. My injury record stacks up with the best of them, so to get the misfortune of the recurrence with my back was just so frustrating.

“Then coming back, getting a real good five games behind me, coming to the end of my contract and missing the last eight games of the season was also frustrating. So it is nice to get a run of games.”

Stack, of course, is well aware injury is a hazard every player faces, not only in matches but training sessions, and he revealed he’s working extra hard to preserve his fitness.

He said: “There may come a time when I have to miss one or two games. I’m hoping that is not the case and I am doing my utmost on a daily basis.”