Hanlon and McGregor ‘Scotland’s best centre halves’

Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor have been at the heart of one of the meanest Hibs defences in years
Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor have been at the heart of one of the meanest Hibs defences in years
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Fraser Fyvie has hailed Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon as the two best centre backs in Scotland and insisted their claim for international recognition will be enhanced should Hibs’ return to the Premiership.

The Hibs duo have been at the heart of a defence which has conceded just seven goals in 13 Championship matches, a record bettered only by English Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur.

Fraser Fyvie

Fraser Fyvie

And, with heated debate over the quality of defenders available to national boss Gordon Strachan as the Scots struggle to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, Fyvie believes his team-mates shouldn’t be overlooked.

His fellow midfielder John McGinn has already been capped by Strachan despite playing in the Championship and Fyvie reckons that sets a precedent for others to be 
considered although he did concede that playing in the top tier of Scottish football could only increase their prospects of doing so.

Hanlon already has experience of the international stage having won 33 caps playing for Scotland’s Under-19 and Under-21 squads, captaining both, and such have been his performances for Hibs, Fyvie admitted he was surprised to see him sign a new three-year deal believing he would move on to a higher level.

Readily admitting it was a “big jump” from the Championship to international level, Fyvie said: “I think if you can find two better centre halves in Scotland than our two, then come and talk to me. They have been fantastic all year and they were great last season as well.

“Their size, their stature, their composure on the ball, especially when Paul takes it in. Daz probably does all the dirty work better than Paul, but they blend really well. With big Fonts [Liam Fontaine] in there as well they have gelled as a back three.

“With Daz [inset] and Paul being Scottish, I certainly would put their names forward. It’s not unrealistic for players here to be in the Scotland squad. To be honest, I didn’t expect Paul to sign his new contract here. I thought he was going to go to a much higher level because I would have thought he’d have had that option. But he decided to stay which was great for us.

“He is very important in our side and so is big Daz. I think you can see that week in, week out. We have not conceded many goals this season and they are a big part of that.”

Despite McGinn’s inclusion in recent Scotland squads, 
Fyvie recognised there might be a reluctance to select Championship players but was equally adamant promotion for Hibs would strengthen his team-mates’ credentials in the eyes of Strachan.

He said: “It’s a big jump from the Championship to international level. But if we were to get ourselves into the top league then it would be easier for people to judge them. So we need to get ourselves up there and hopefully we can do that.

“And then the boys will be looked at in a different way, playing so-called better sides, which is probably right, Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen Hearts, St Johnstone, all top sides. So it is right they are judged on that.”

Hibs’ hopes for promotion at the third time of asking are, of course, on track even if their lead at the top of the Championship is a solitary point despite some having predicted Neil Lennon’s players would run away with the title as Hearts and Rangers had done in the previous two seasons.

This time round newly-relegated Dundee United are their closest challengers after 13 games and while happy to be out in front, Fyvie admitted greater consistency, despite having lost just one league match, will be key to achieving the club’s target.

He said: “We’re top of the league so we have obviously been putting points on the board. In terms of performance I think we could be a bit more consistent. We can improve on our final ball in the last third of the pitch. But I think it is coming and at this time of the season it needs to start coming more frequently.

“I don’t think anyone has been excellent in the league this season. I’ve said many times, it’s a hard league, there are a lot of good teams. Falkirk showed that last Saturday, going down to ten men they ground out a result. I don’t think anyone has been fantastic, but I do think we can be better and we’re gradually getting there.”

Although Hibs don’t have the financial clout Rangers enjoyed, Fyvie accepted the Capital outfit should probably be regarded as favourites given the club’s stature, but insisted there had been no change in the mindset of Lennon’s players because of that. He said: “We think the same way as we have done. Last year Rangers were a very strong side, they invested quite a bit of money at the start of the season and that showed. They deserved to win the league.

“This season Dundee United are in the league so there are a few big clubs. Every game is tough. I don’t know if people look at us differently to Falkirk and so on. Maybe they do. We probably should be favourites given the stature of the club.

“We have put pressure on ourselves the last couple of seasons to win the league. We should have been up there, like we were. But obviously we just didn’t quite do it. So we’ll be looking to do that this time around, hopefully.”