PAUL HANLON admits he is revelling in finally being able to talk with pride about playing for Hibs.
The centre-back has generally spent the past two seasons helping Hibs battle relegation, while fending off questions about the club’s predicament from concerned fans.
However, with resurgent Hibs now riding high in second place in the SPL, the buzz at Easter Road is back and a relieved Hanlon admits he now feels far more comfortable showing his face in public.
“It’s a big difference from last year, when it was just disappointment after disappointment,” he recalls. “Speaking to fans it was disappointing for them and you just had to agree with them at the time.
“Now it’s more upbeat. We’re far from the finished article, but it’s good to be winning games, especially at home in front of plenty of Hibs fans.
“It was difficult meeting the fans last year because you couldn’t give them an exact answer. You’re trying your hardest to win games and it wasn’t happening last year. You’re trying your best every week and last season was disappointing. It just makes winning all the more enjoyable this year when we’re on a good run.”
The return of the feelgood factor has been aided by Hibs’ excellent home form. As third-place Aberdeen head to Easter Road for today’s eagerly-awaited SPL clash, Hibs have amassed five wins from their seven home games so far and are yet to suffer a defeat in Leith.
This is in stark contrast to last season, when two victories from 19 home SPL fixtures were a major factor in Hibs’ fight against relegation.
Hanlon added: “Last year our home form was the most disappointing thing about the whole season, so to be unbeaten so far this season is great. It’s something to be proud of and we’re not going to let it go easily.
“It was tough playing at home at times last season, but enjoyable at the same time because it’s a great stadium and a great pitch. Last year our home form was the most disappointing thing about the whole season, so to be unbeaten so far is great and we’re desperate to keep it going. It’s something to be proud of and we’re not going to let it go easily.”
Hanlon believes manager Pat Fenlon deserves all the credit going for the work he has put in with each and every one of the players to spark this season’s improvement.
He said: “He’s been great. He’s helped me a lot with wee things in training. With the team as a whole he had a hard job when he came in. He had to get us safe and he did that, and managed to get us to a cup final. And this season he’s managed to shape his own team and so far so good. We’re unbeaten so far at home and we want to keep that going and get as many fans through the door.”
Hanlon admits his side are desperate to bounce back against the Dons today after the disappointment of losing to bottom side Dundee last weekend. He believes the clash with Craig Brown’s men will be a cracker. He said: “It should be a good game. We’re obviously looking to bounce back after last week’s result.
“Hopefully we’ll be up there come the end of the season, but I think Aberdeen will be as well. They’ve a lot of experience, a lot of good players, and a lot of good young players as well.
“We never played to our capabilities against Dundee last week, and if you don’t play well enough in this league you’re going to get beaten no matter who you’re playing.
“We weren’t getting carried away through winning games, but we can use the Dundee result as a reminder that you need to be on top of your game every week.
“It was a general thing – a lot of our players didn’t turn up and didn’t play to their full ability. It was just one of those days, I suppose.”
Hibs are likely to again be without James McPake, who felt some pain after his first training session on Thursday following a problem with a back spasm that has ruled him out of their last two league matches.
Tim Clancy will see a specialist to assess the groin injury which isn’t recovering in the way that Pat Fenlon and co would have liked and Hanlon conceded that they are both a huge loss – along with broken-jaw victim Gary Deegan.
However, he insisted that Hibs could not use that trio’s absence as an excuse for the way that they played at Dens Park last weekend.
He continued: “Tim and James are big players for us, but they were also out the week before and we dealt with it well against Dundee United. So we can’t use that as an excuse. We should have played better than we did last weekend.”