Efe Ambrose will spur Hibs on, says Ofir Marciano
Neil Lennon is convinced his players' burning desire not to give up the Scottish Cup without a fight has played havoc with Hibs' bid for the Championship title.
While the Easter Road side have kept their hope of defending the trophy they won for the first time in 114 years remains on track – a semi-final berth against Aberdeen secured – their league form has suffered.
Just three points gained from four games against sides in the bottom half of the table have given rivals Dundee United and Falkirk renewed hope, with Hibs now facing a trip to Tannadice on Friday night for a match which takes on huge significance.
Time and again head coach Lennon’s players have passed up opportunities to stretch their lead over United and the Bairns, now in second place and just six points behind but with a game more played.
Significantly, though, those missed chances have been intertwined with that ongoing cup campaign, the two Edinburgh derbies against Hearts, for example, preceded by disappointing draws against Ayr United and then Raith Rovers.
Another draw with Dunfermline and a midweek defeat by St Mirren – perhaps seen in a slightly different light given the Buddies’ spirited display against Celtic last weekend – came in the run-up to the quarter-final with Ayr, a potentially tricky tie given the Somerset Park outfit’s previous visits to Easter Road.
However, Hibs managed to negotiate that hurdle with few problems, but with a clear run of seven league games between now and that Hampden showdown with the Dons, goalkeeper Ofir Marciano feels now is the time for Lennon’s players to hit the accelerator and start to the leave the others trailing in their wake.
And that task, he believes, will be enhanced by the arrival of Efe Ambrose, the Celtic defender signed on an emergency loan to help Hibs overcome a dwindling pool of centre backs caused by injury and suspension.
As new as he might be to Easter Road, the Nigerian internationalist is no stranger to Marciano, the pair having been team-mates together for two years at Israeli club Ashdod from which the goalkeeper is on a season-long loan with the Capital club.
Ambrose, of course, has been marginalised at Celtic Park since Brendan Rodgers became manager, the 28-year-old pilloried for a string of high-profile mistakes.
But, insisted Marciano, Ambrose’s record in Scotland speaks for itself – four Premiership titles, a Scottish Cup win and lifting the African Cup of Nations.
Admitting neither player could have envisaged being reunited in the Easter Road dressing room, Marciano said: “I understand this past year has been hard for Efe but I don’t need to talk about what he has achieved in his career.
“He’s been playing at the highest level so for us it’s a benefit to have him here. I think it will be good for us and good for Efe who is happy to be back playing again.
“Efe obviously has that winning mentality but when I look at our squad I see good fighters, good players who want to win even in tough times.
“He jumped at the chance to come here which is good, but you don’t look on Hibs as a Championship club but as one of the top four in the country.
“It’s a massive club, one that Efe knows from playing against Hibs and I know he feels he has made a good decision.”
Ambrose may have made the step down into the Championship to kick-start his career, but Marciano has no doubts he’ll quickly adapt to life with Hibs.
Recalling their days together in Israel, he said: “There were a few Nigerian players. Israel is a nice country, nice weather and warm people so it was easy to adapt. It’s like that here in Scotland, I feel everyone has welcomed me and so it’s been easy to adapt to the football and the lifestyle.
“But Efe is the sort who could adapt to living and playing anywhere, he’s a happy guy. He’s a good friend of mine so I’m glad he’s come to Hibs because he will be a good addition to the squad.
“We had a good partnership at Ashdod and, to be honest, it’s as if we’ve never stopped playing together. It’s good to have someone you have played with before and the chemistry will get better, not just with me but the rest of the team. I don’t think either of us would have thought for one minute when we were together at Ashdod that we’d be team-mates together again in Scotland, never mind Hibs.
“But that’s the nice part of football, you never know what might happen. You have to dream if you want to achieve good things.”
A first visit to Hampden was, Marciano admitted, one of his own personal targets at the start of the season but now that has been achieved he’s happy to put it out of his mind and concentrate on tightening Hibs’ grip on the title and promotion.
He said: “Going there is a bonus, but we have far more important games to play between now and then.”