Derby cameo meant the world to Hibs midfielder Danny Swanson
Lifelong Hibs fan Danny Swanson would be the first to admit this season has been anything other than memorable as far as he is concerned.
As Neil Lennon’s players have returned to take the Ladbrokes Premiership by storm, Swanson has become a somewhat peripheral figure, a place in the starting line-up a rarity as he’s been restricted in the main to cameo appearances towards the end of matches.
Nothing, however, could wipe the smile from his face as he stepped from the bench yet again as the clock ran down on the latest Edinburgh derby. The match was already won, goals from Scott Allan and Jamie Maclaren having clinched the victory which would put Hibs 12 points clear of their Capital rivals, but it mattered little to Swanson.
At last, the dream he’d nurtured since boyhood had become a reality although, he revealed, it needed a little bit of persuasion on his part to make it come true.
“I think the gaffer was going to put Ryan Porteous on,” he said, “But I caught his eye and gave him the look to say ‘put me on.’
“It was great he did, my first Edinburgh derby and I enjoyed it obviously, a win and at Easter Road. It didn’t matter to me that it was only the last couple of minutes, as you saw at the end I was just delighted.
“It was something I’ve always wanted to do. I got one touch of the ball so I can honestly say I played my part. Next up is to score against them with the Hibs strip on.”
For everyone in green and white it’s been a week of basking in that win over Hearts but, as far as Lennon and his players are concerned, the focus quickly shifted to tomorrow night’s clash with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, the target being to claim another three points and keep the pressure on third-placed Aberdeen.
The Perth ground is one Swanson obviously knows well having spent two spells with the Saints and only a few weeks ago it looked certain he’d be returning for a third time with Saints manager Tommy Wright keen to take him on loan to the end of the season.
Lennon appeared quite happy for that to happen, Swanson conceding that the “silly incident” during Hibs’ winter break in Portugal in which he, Anthony Stokes and Martin Boyle were all disciplined for breaking a curfew, probably helped sway his mind.
Swanson, though, had other thoughts, the 31-year-old saying: “I know it’s been a stop-start season for me on and off the pitch, personally it could have been better and there are reasons for that,
“But I had no intention of going back, to be honest, not in a disrespectful way but I had worked hard all my career to play here and I wasn’t going to throw that away to go back to where I’d come from.
“The gaffer spoke to me and I basically said ‘no.’ I did speak to Tommy, Hibs did give him permission to speak to me but I felt I owed Hibs for that silly incident. I’m happy here, it’s a great club to be at, I love coming into training every day, my family are settled and I am enjoying it.
“I’ve trained hard since then and been patient whereas a few years ago I might have been punching doors and taking it out on other people. Now I concentrate on the team. If we are doing well then I am happy. I feel I can play here, it’s just getting that chance and getting into the team.”
Swanson accepted that had he returned to McDiarmid Park some might have suggested he’d been a failure at Easter Road, a view he simply doesn’t share.
He said: “If I had gone maybe people would have said that, but I wouldn’t have seen it that way. I have played for Hibs, scored for Hibs, that’s been a life-long dream. I don’t care what anyone says, all I care about is my family. I don’t get involved in anyone else’s life, if they wanted to say I’d failed, fine. I just wanted to stay and fight for my place, I’m not going to chuck it. I am training hard and hopefully the gaffer notices.”
The arrival of playmaker Scott Allan hasn’t made Swanson’s bid to pin down a regular starting place any easier but, again, that’s a fight he’s happy to have.
He said: “Scott’s been doing well, but you are always going to have competition. All I can do is try, that’s what I do every day, do my best, try to improve and get better. I’ve not had the rub of the green this year, but that’s football. You have to take the rough with the smooth.
“I am a Hibs player and a fan and as long as Hibs are doing well that’s the main thing. I’ve learned to be a team player and accept if you are not playing then you are around the boys and helping them. It’s been hard, but those two minutes the other night made up for a lot.”
Lennon’s players have enjoyed a remarkable run of results in the league since the turn of the year with victories over Rangers, Aberdeen and now Hearts keeping them on course for a place in the Europa League, an experience Swanson enjoyed while with Dundee United.
He recalled: “We played against AEK Athens and it was a brilliant experience. I’d been at Easter Road the night Hibs beat AEK all those years ago, it was one of the best games I’d ever seen.
“It’s something I’d love to do with Hibs and that’s obviously our aim. A bonus last weekend was Aberdeen dropping another point so we’re that bit closer to them. As the gaffer has said, we are looking up. When I came here and saw the squad being assembled by the gaffer I felt we should be pushing for third.
“Aberdeen have the semi-final of the Scottish Cup to contend with as well now which might have a say in things but we’ll continue looking just to do our job.”
Hibs have four games before the ‘split’, all of them against teams in the bottom half of the Premiership, starting with tomorrow’s match at McDiarmid Park.
After thumping Dundee 4-0 at the weekend, St Johnstone, currently eighth, still have a mathematical chance of yet again claiming a top-six finish and, although Swanson admits he’d love to see them do so he knows that, realistically, that would mean them beating Hibs. He said: “Saints have been struggling of late, but last week was a good result. They’ve been punching above their weight for years now. They are always difficult; they set up well so we will have to work out a way to beat them.
“Every year people say they’ll struggle the next season because they don’t have the finance or resources and that has maybe caught up with them a bit while they’ve lost some players and those still there are that year older. It’s sad to see because they are a great club, I still look out for their results and hope they do well. I saw Tommy say top six is probably away from them. I’d like to see them do that but we need the three points if we are to achieve our own goal.”
• Hibs had their lead at the top of the SPFL Development League trimmed to three points after they were beaten 3-1 by Hamilton at the SuperSeal Stadium. Fraser Murray was on the scoresheeet for the young Hibees, who were without key men Oli Shaw and Ryan Porteous.