More to come from Hibs, says Liam Henderson

Liam Henderson stepped up to curl an exquisite free kick beyond Livi goalkeeper Darren Jamieson. Picture: Neil Hanna
Liam Henderson stepped up to curl an exquisite free kick beyond Livi goalkeeper Darren Jamieson. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Four straight wins, four clean sheets, it looks as if life could hardly get any better for Alan Stubbs’ Hibs at the moment.

But as far as match-winner Liam Henderson is concerned, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

As delighted as he was to score for the second match in succession, his sumptuous free-kick minutes into the second half rightly described by Stubbs as worthy of winning any game, the on-loan Celtic youngster believes there’s much, much more to come from this new-look Easter Road side.

“It’s still early in the season,” he pointed out. “I’ve come in as have a few other boys but we have gelled pretty quickly. That happens when you have nice football players, guys who want to play nice football.

“I reckon we still have a bit to go, we are young, looking to improve and hungry to do well.”

The likes of Henderson and his fellow midfielders John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch, along with a few others, certainly fall into the “nice footballers” category but it was grit and determination rather than class and style which saw the Capital club home against the Championship’s basement outfit.

He said: “It was a tough game and while it was good to get a goal, the credit goes down to a team performance and especially the back four and big Ox [goalkeeper Mark Oxley], they were magnificent as they have been for the last four or five games.

“The most important thing was winning, keeping this run going and a performance like that when you have to dig in goes a long way. It shows we can do the ugly side of the game. We have a lot of football players in the team but this shows we can mix it up and do the dirty side as well.”

Henderson’s goal came just as the Hibs fans, who formed the vast majority of the crowd in the newly named Tony Macaroni Arena, were beginning to fret, Stubbs players having failed to capitalise on their early domination in which Livingston goalkeeper Darren Jamieson pulled off a point-blank stop from Jason Cummings before Dominique Malonga somehow contrived to skiff a shot off the outside of the post from only six yards with the goal gaping in front of him.

And they’d survived a scare when Oxley’s legs blocked Scott Pittman’s effort, the ball running loose to Liam Buchanan who could only hold his head in disbelief as Paul Hanlon appeared on his own goal-line to boot clear.

A rash challenge from Gary Glen, diving in on Lewis Stevenson as he cut in from the right, was penalised by referee Barry Cook, presenting Henderson with the opportunity to curl a sumptuous shot over the wall and into the top corner of Jamieson’s net.

A soft award it certainly was but, as Livingston boss Mark Burchill pointed out, would his side rather have had Stevenson, a far from prolific scorer, on his weaker right foot than presenting Henderson with such a chance. That Henderson placed it in the postage stamp came as no surprise to Stubbs, the Hibs head coach saying: “Liam has quality, that’s undoubted. He’s been doing that in training for the last ten days and I have been waiting to see him put one in exactly the same place.

“I’ve been telling him to take more shots, to believe in himself and while I was delighted to see it go in, I was not surprised either, it was a finish worthy of winning any game.”

As far as Henderson was concerned it was a case of practice makes perfect, the 19-year-old revealing: “Jason, James Keatings and myself practise free-kicks, we have a bit of a competition, a bit of a laugh and a bit of banter. Jason was looking to claim it but I reminded him of his free-kick at Ibrox and he said ‘all right’.”

It turned out to be the right decision, soothing the nerves although Hibs needed a last-ditch block from Stevenson to deny Livingston substitute Jordyn Sheerin at the death, leaving Stubbs to admit: “I’d have liked to have been a bit more comfortable on the touchline.

“I don’t think we were at our fluent best, but there’s lots of different ways to win games of football. You are not always going to win comfortably, two, three and four nil. Sometimes you have to grind things out.

“When you look at the first half we could, potentially, have been 3-0 up on another day. But the reason we won is self-explanatory, we were able to keep a clean sheet and that gives you confidence.

“They have had to deal with set pieces, throw-ins and in the end hopeful balls into the box but they did and that’s the most pleasing thing for me.

“It’s not easy breaking teams down and you have to give Livingston credit. They were very honest, there was lots of endeavour from them and they made it hard for us.”

Skipper David Gray agreed. “We had three chances early on and failing to take them kept Livingston in the game and gave them something to fight for. They definitely made it difficult for us so we were just delighted to get over the line and another clean sheet was a bonus for us defenders especially.”

And as for Malonga and Cummings being relieved men back in the changing room on the final whistle? Stubbs said: “That’s why it’s a team game, it’s not an individual game and the lads at the back helped them get the three points. Everyone has to pull their weight. It was a tricky game, it’s not an easy place to come to but that’s four clean sheets so we must be doing something right.”

Now it is on to Wednesday night and a mouthwatering League Cup clash with Premiership leaders Aberdeen, a prospect which, Stubbs admitted, had him worried that his players might have had at the back of their minds as they faced Livingston.

He said: “I was a bit wary of it taking the focus. It’s a chance for us to rub shoulders against a team which, at this moment, is the top team. I’m sure it will be an entertaining game. I have a lot of time for Derek [McInnes, Aberdeen’s manager], he is good guy and it’s no coincidence he is getting his rewards. He has a good team but I am ready to have a go at a good team.”

And Henderson endorsed his manager’s words saying: “Aberdeen have started magnificently. They have great squad so this is a good gauge for us to see where we are, all the boys are looking forward to it.”