Paul HANLON believes Hibs’ stuttering start to the season will soon be forgotten as boss Colin Calderwood finally begins to see all of his Easter Road stars return to full fitness.
Calderwood has found his early-season plans blighted as a string of key players have been hit by injury, robbing him of the services of Akpo Sodje, Michael Hart, Sean O’Hanlon, Martin Scott and Sean Welsh.
New signings Junior Agogo and Phil Airey have also been sidelined and, while Calderwood will have to wait a bit longer for the Newcastle United kid, Hart and Welsh to return to action, Scotland Under-21 skipper Hanlon claims an easing of the casualty list will coincide with an upturn in on-field fortunes. The Scottish Communities League Cup win over Berwick Rangers not only saw Sodje and Scott start their first games of the season but marked the return of O’Hanlon, the big centre-half making his first appearance since breaking a toe on the opening day against Celtic. Scott, who scored two of Hibs’ five goals, and O’Hanlon both lasted the entire 90 minutes while Sodje, who also found the net, managed a further 73 minutes to add to his brief appearance against St Mirren at the weekend, ensuring much-needed game time for all three as they seek to attain full match fitness once again.
Hanlon, pictured below right, said: “I think the squad is starting to come together. We’ve a few new signings and others who have taken knocks which has unsettled things a bit. You want the new guys to stay fit and get used to the way we play. We’ve been a bit unlucky with injuries but now things are taking shape.”
Scott and Sodje were crocked in the pre-season friendly at Livingston, the midfielder then needing six stitches in a gashed knee against Livingston, while the former Charlton hitman’s damaged knee ligaments prevented him playing until last weekend.
However, Hanlon believes the performances of the pair against Berwick suggests they aren’t too far away from being where they should be in terms of fitness while the five goals scored have provided a timely boost to confidence ahead of Sunday’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
Pointing out that Calderwood’s latest signing, Isaiah Osbourne, rested against Berwick, is also intent on making his mark, Hibs’ vice-captain said: “It was an important result as potentially it could have been a tricky situation for us. We were in a no-win situation, people will say we should have won by that margin but had it been closer we’d have been getting criticised.
“Last weekend was a massive disappointment for us so it was good for confidence to get a few goals and now allow ourselves to look forward to Sunday. I wouldn’t say there were any nerves as such in the dressingroom beforehand, just a determination to go out and get the job done which we did.
“We said if we could get a bit of possession in their half and get a couple of goals before the interval it would settle everyone down and that’s exactly as it worked out. Jimmy [Scott] got us that early lead with Akpo getting another before half-time.”
Garry O’Connor made it four in four as he powered home a header for Hibs’ third before Scott and Ivan Sproule put the finishing gloss on proceedings, Hanlon believing the striker’s rich vein of form is sending out warning signals to opposition teams.
He said: “It’s not just Garry’s goals but his work-rate. He’s a handful for anyone to mark, he never gives centre-halves a minute’s peace and when he gets the chance he has the quality to put the ball into the net. Garry is never short in confidence, he’s played at the highest level and done it all.
“He’s been scoring every week but you also find him on the training ground helping the young strikers so hopefully that will rub off on them. Can he score 20 or more for us this season? Hopefully he can, but the one thing I know is I’d rather have him on our side than against us.”
Up until Tuesday night O’Connor had been the only Hibs player to score this season. However, as Hanlon acknowledges, the fact Scott, Sodje and Sproule joined the striker on the scoresheet should give Calderwood’s side another shot in the arm. He said: “First and foremost, getting the win and moving into the next round was the most important thing. But having four different players score was also good, you can’t have too many players doing that in any team. Akpo might have got a few more but as a striker if you get into position to have a shot at goal then you are doing all right. The main thing is he’s now over his injury, he’s off the mark and hopefully he’ll get another couple of chances against Hearts.
“It was great for Jimmy to get a couple. He’s not had too much game time so far because of injury but he got his chance, grabbed it and I’m sure he’ll now be right in the manager’s thoughts for Sunday.”
Scott himself was naturally delighted to claim his first competitive goals since his January move from Ross County, the former Livingston midfielder vowing to put the troubled summer he’s endured behind him to concentrate on fully establishing himself at Easter Road.
His injuries aside, the 25-year-old found himself making all the wrong sorts of headlines following a training ground bust-up which left team-mate Sean Welsh hopitalised and needing surgery on a fractured cheekbone, the incident resulting in him being fined by the club.
He said: “It’s been a strange period in my career but I think it will make me a better person, a better football player because of what has happened.
“I don’t really want to talk about it too much. It’s in the past. I felt some bad stuff was written in the papers that probably was not right but I’d rather not speak about it. I want to concentrate on football.
“The people that know me know I am an all right guy. My wife and kids have helped me through it while the gaffer and his backroom staff are brilliant.
“The gaffer is so cool, calm and collected while I have good friends inside the world of football like my old boss Derek Adams at Ross County, who I still keep in touch with.
“I came to Hibs as I wanted to try to further my career and hopefully I can do that. I’ve been unlucky with injuries but now I’ve scored in a competitive match for Hibs and I’m just glad to be up and running. I’ve scored before with late runs into the box so hopefully I can keep it going.”