Paul Hanlon isn’t surprised in the slightest to see Ian Murray in the home dugout at Dumbarton this afternoon – because he always believed his former team-mate was destined to become a manager.
Having idolised Murray during the 33-year-old’s first spell as a player at Easter Road, Hanlon was stunned to find himself sharing a dressing-room with the midfielder after ex-boss Mixu Paatelainen brought him back to the club.
Hanlon quickly earmarked Nid, as he was known, as a manager of the future. “When I was a youngster and Ian was at the club for the first time he was one of the main players when I used to come and watch the games,” said Hanlon. “What he did for the club was brilliant. He was captain of Hibs at a very young age and, to be honest, it was an honour to play in the same team as him.
“Mixu signed him for the club for a second time and you could see in the dressing-room that he was one day going to be a manager. He was always a captain and a leader, so there always seemed to be that chance and then towards the end of his playing career he was right into his coaching. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me to see him doing well at Dumbarton.”
Of course Murray, pictured right, will be just one familiar face at the Bet Butler Stadium today, with Dumbarton boasting a strong connection with Easter Road in the shape of his assistant Guillaume Beuzelin, physio Colin McLelland and three more former players who are still pulling on their boots for Hibs’ Championship rivals, Colin Nish, David van Zanten and Scott Taggart.
While Hanlon will be happy to catch up with his old pals, Hanlon will be even happier to be travelling home tonight having extended Hibs’ winning run on the road to five games. Their away form is far more impressive than their results at Easter Road, where they’ve drawn four matches in succession, a record which, Hanlon admitted, was a disappointment.
However, the former Scotland Under-21 captain believes Alan Stubbs’ side could well find it a touch easier to prise three points from Dumbarton than just a few weeks ago when Murray’s players escaped Easter Road with a point, thanks in the main to the officials failing to spot that Dominique Malonga’s penalty had crossed the line.
He said: “We’ve been a bit disappointed with our home form recently. We’ve dominated most games, but not got the three points we feel we’ve deserved. There’s a thin divide between getting a draw or winning and I think the Dumbarton game highlighted that fact.
“A lot of teams have come to Easter Road this season, sat in and tried to counter-attack us. We’ve found it hard on occasions to break them down. If you don’t have that bit of quality on the day then it’s difficult when teams are setting up with everyone behind the ball just trying not to be beaten.
“It’s perhaps a compliment, but at the same time we have to be able to break teams down and take the three points. I’m not sure it will be that way with Dumbarton at home, but that was the case when they came to Easter Road.”
If results at home have been a source of irritation, Hibs go into today’s match unbeaten in eight league games, Hanlon believing they’ve finally got to grips with the second tier of Scottish football following their traumatic and unexpected relegation.
The defender said: “I think we took too long to get going this season, to find our feet and be familiar with how teams are setting up against us. But we should be used to it now and while we were disappointed with the draw against Queen of the South, we believe we have turned the corner.”
As much as Hibs’ away record outstrips their home one, Hanlon insisted neither he nor any of his team-mates have a problem playing at Easter Road, saying: “We’ve had better results away from home, but I wouldn’t say I enjoy playing away better than at home. I love playing at Easter Road – it’s a great place to play football.”