Hibs star Paul Hanlon will feel perfectly at home this afternoon as he takes to the pitch at St Mirren Park for the fourth time this season.
As captain of Scotland’s Under-21 side, the Easter Road defender has become totally familiar with the Paisley ground, now the base for Billy Stark’s squad as they mount their latest European qualifying campaign.
Hanlon has already faced Norway, Bulgaria and Austria at the other end of the M8 but it is back to the “bread and butter” of SPL action today as his team try to replicate the 1-0 win they enjoyed on their last visit to the home of the Buddies.
On that occasion, Francis Dickoh’s last-gasp goal extended a run of victories which eventually numbered five as Colin Calderwood’s team hauled themselves clear of the threat of becoming embroiled in a relegation dog-fight.
Today, with Hibs hovering just one point above bottom place following the first round of fixtures, Hanlon is only too well aware of the importance of clocking up another win against a side who currently sit in the top six and go into this match buoyed by their dramatic draw against Rangers at Ibrox.
In contrast, Calderwood’s players are still smarting from their insipid first-half display against Motherwell which contributed to a sixth defeat of the season, a performance which, according to Hanlon, has left him and his team-mates determined to “put things right”.
The Hibs vice-captain said: “We want to show the manager we are good enough to be playing for the club, that we want to be on the ball and show what we are good at.
“He was just disappointed, we were all disappointed in ourselves, especially with the first-half performance against Motherwell. It was difficult against them for the first 20 minutes or so as they had a lot of the ball and we couldn’t even keep it in their final third for five minutes just to get us up the pitch. We played a bit better in the second half but we didn’t create enough chances to get a point or win the game. But there’s not much we can do now except go through to St Mirren and try to put things right.
“It’s all about confidence, we have to be confident to reproduce the work we do on the training ground when we go on to the pitch. We need to go out and believe in ourselves, that’s the main issue just now. It’s harder to be confident when you are losing games. Confidence comes from winning. Everyone says that, but it’s true. We need to get a good result or even just start doing things right to help us grow in confidence.”
Hearing the home support jeer their efforts at half-time and on the final whistle has, sadly, become all too common an occurrence for Calderwood’s players but, Hanlon insisted, playing at Easter Road hasn’t become a problem for the team.
“It’s obviously up to us to make the fans happy by doing our best for them and the club,” he said. “They are disappointed with our performances, but so are we.
“I’m sure if the game was at Easter Road today and we started off well they would be right behind us, so it’s up to us to put things right.
“Our last match at St Mirren last season was a massive one, coming as it did as part of a good run. Hopefully we can do that again and if it pushes us on to a good run of games we’ll be delighted, but we just have to focus on this match. We know it will be a hard game – they are a good side and will pose a lot of danger to us.”
Hanlon is also hoping to go one better than on his last two visits to Paisley, in which he led the young Scots to draws against Bulgaria and Austria.
“I’m quite familiar with the stadium now,” he said. “It was a disappointing result there against Austria but we were behind twice and came back to draw, which was good.”
Although he has taken his caps tally to 16 at under-21 level, Hanlon’s first priority is Hibs, and he is adamant that Calderwood’s players will emerge from their current problems all the stronger for the experience.
The only Hibs player to have played every minute of every game so far this season, the 21-year-old added: “It’s good to be playing week in, week out although the results have been pretty disappointing. But if we can get through the hard stages as a team we’ll be better for it. If the young players in the squad go through difficult stages hopefully they’ll be able to look back in a few years and say it made them stronger.”