Brian Graham's black eye '˜a sign of Hibs desire'
Brian Graham is sporting a 'shiner', his blackened left eye caused not by an opponent's flailing arm but by the head of team-mate Paul Hanlon.
And that training ground accident, he insisted, is all the proof you need of the will-to-win which has driven Hibs to the top of the Championship.
“We train as we play,” the striker said. “Training is very competitive every day. Because we have such a good squad everyone knows you have to be playing well to have a chance of being in the team come the weekend.
“No-one pulls out of tackles, training is of a high intensity and is probably why we are at the level we are at the moment.
“I took a head knock from Paul a week past Friday and the fact the black eye is still there more than a week later shows just how competitive it is.”
If Hanlon and his fellow defenders Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine give nothing away to their team-mates at East Mains, opposition forwards are given an even tougher time of it, the Easter Road defence proudly boasting of being the tightest back-line in British football, just seven goals conceded in their first 14 league matches.
Such has been their parsimony – the 4-0 win over Queen of the South marked their eighth clean sheet – some, including team-mate Fraser Fyvie, have suggested Gordon Strachan could do worse than consider Hanlon and McGregor as he battles to rekindle Scotland’s World Cup qualifying hopes.
Graham, for one, wouldn’t disagree, saying: “The boys at the back have been brilliant. Liam has come back in the last few weeks which shows the strength in depth we have and, again, I don’t think Ofir Marciano has had a save to make.
“I noticed Fraser mention a possible Scotland call-up for Daz and Paul and I don’t think they are too far off, to be honest. They are good defenders. When you train with them day in, day out you see how good they really are.
“We’ve got a great defensive record so you can only hope Mr Strachan is watching.”
Such is the competition for places at Easter Road the visit of Queens marked Graham’s first start in almost two months although it took him only seven minutes to claim the opening goal to set Hibs up for a victory which took them three points clear at the top of the table.
The 28-year-old said: “I had to bide my time. The boys have been playing well and, when the chance comes, you have to take it. Obviously, I was delighted to score, it was a real poacher’s goal but overall I felt I played well.”
Lennon lauded his side’s performance, adamant it was as good as he’d seen as a manager while claiming the margin of victory could have been twice as great, Queens goalkeeper Lee Robinson standing between Queens and a real hammering with a string of impressive saves, notably from Martin Boyle who eventually got the Capital club’s fourth goal.
“Yes, it could have been twice as many,” conceded Graham, “But I’d take a 4-0 win any day of the week.
“Their goalkeeper has had a few fantastic saves including one from me in the second half but as far as Martin is concerned as a striker you just have to keep going, believing in yourself.
“Sometimes you have days like that when it just won’t go in but he didn’t let his head drop, he showed great character and was rewarded with his goal.”
Skipper David Gray also got his name on the scoresheet but, insisted Graham, Hibs midfielder John McGinn should be credited with Hibs’ second, his shot going in off the legs of Queens defender Chris Higgins and noted as an own goal.
“That’s very harsh on John,” he claimed, “His shot was on target, the ball was heading for the net and it’s come off the defender’s legs. It’s definitely John’s goal. It’s great to see goals coming from different areas. Obviously it’s good when the strikers are scoring but when others are chipping in it takes a wee bit of the pressure off.”
Graham’s own goal was his fourth for Hibs but, as he quickly pointed out, it was actually his tenth of the season having scored six in just four games for Ross County before making the move to Edinburgh on a two-year deal.
And that, he revealed, has proved a sore point with Jason Cummings who rates himself as Hibs’ top scorer after netting eight in the club’s first six league matches only to have found himself starting games from the bench in recent weeks.
Graham said: “I’ve been winding Jason up as he says the six I got for Ross County don’t count. He likes to tell me he’s got eight but I’ve got ten.
“I started the season really well for County and that’s probably why I got my move. I know Neil Lennon watched me and I got a goal that night.
“To have scored ten before the end of November isn’t bad. I always set myself a wee target but I never reveal it. If you hit it, it is brilliant but sometimes you don’t.”
Hibs now have an idle weekend as Championship clubs enter the Scottish Cup, their next game next Friday night away to second-placed Dundee United, the side regarded as their biggest rivals for the title.
Graham said: “I’m disappointed not to have a game this weekend. When you are playing the way we are then you want the games to be coming thick and fast.
“The United game is obviously going to be a big one. We haven’t really bothered about what they have been doing, but we’re three points ahead and know it could be six.”