Taking into consideration that we were missing the presence of one or two players from last week’s victory over Kilmarnock, Saturday’s draw with Aberdeen was another welcome point in our quest to climb the league table. Despite not being able to ground out a victory, we should be encouraged as defensively we have steadied the ship in our last two fixtures and have also been pleasing on the eye.
For the new players in particular, they deserve a lot of credit as it can’t be easy coming to a club like Hibs and straight into a relegation battle. However, I have been impressed with what I have seen so far and hope there is more to come from those individuals between now and the end of the season. For a number of weeks I have said the one aspect of our game that has to improve is our defending. With this in mind, recording another clean sheet will give the side a great deal of satisfaction. I am sure in the games ahead our attacking play will improve as I felt at times on Saturday it seemed a little bit rushed having found some good positions in and around the penalty area.
Looking at the side on Saturday, I think it would be fair to say the manager had some tough decisions to make with regards to the defensive area of the park with both James McPake and Paul Hanlon absentees from last week. However, young Matt Doherty proved to be an excellent replacement at centre-half and deserves a huge amount of praise in what was a faultless performance. I stated in my article last week that the underestimation of defending in the modern game is a bugbear of mine. I do, however, think Doherty’s performance epitomised how defenders should go about their business as he showed great composure and intelligence on the ball, yet knew when it was time to clear his lines.
I was fortunate enough to play alongside many good defenders throughout my career. I’ve also had the pleasure of coaching a number of good players in this position as well and is a point I feel very strongly about. Irrespective of the level, whether it is professional, part-time or Sunday amateur, the one characteristic I found they all had was a determination to keep a clean sheet. You only have to look at the great defenders of today’s game where some will express such anger at losing a goal despite leading the opposition 5-0.
After two improved performances, I am sure the manager will be pleased with what he has seen but now faces a dilemma of who to put out on the pitch for Sunday’s match against Celtic. I’ve had discussions with friends about the recent improvements where views have been expressed that perhaps more hunger is now shown at training sessions, tactics are better suited to individual players or even just a more organised style of management is now present at the club. My opinion is fairly straightforward in that we have been able to recruit a better calibre of player and this is now being seen on the park.
It was noticeable on Saturday how much the Hibs supporters appreciated the efforts of the players where there was a real unity around Easter Road. When surrounded by supporters of all ages, it can be very interesting listening to the different comments and opinions from the young, the mature and people who have watched football for over 60 or 70 years. This is a part of football that has always intrigued me. Why would you not listen to a supporter in their 70s who has enjoyed the privilege of watching Pat Stanton, Lawrie Reilly and the Gordon Smith’s of this world? I believe these are the kind of supporters whose opinions are underestimated as they bring some real value to the matchday experience.
When they see a good player, or side fit to wear the green and white of Hibs, they appreciate it. I am sure after Saturday they will have gone home a lot more optimistic about the future of the club.