Cammy Bell has been counting down the minutes for almost a fortnight as he impatiently waits for the moment he’ll make his Easter Road debut.
The Hibs goalkeeper has known since making an unexpected appearance against St Johnstone after Neil Lennon’s No.1 Ofir Marciano was sent off that he’d be on from the start in the Capital club’s next game.
Thanks to the international break he’d been left kicking his heels, but now the visit of Partick Thistle is almost upon us – and not a second too soon as Bell is concerned.
“I would have preferred to have had another game straight away,” confessed the 31-year-old. “It was a wee bit unfortunate we didn’t, but the break probably came at a good time for the team in that it gave a few boys who were carrying knocks the chances to get a bit of rest.”
Having had that enforced lay-off, Hibs now face three games in the space of just seven days before finding themselves with another free weekend. They then embark on the home straight, the final five games following the split.
Partick are followed in quick succession by Hamilton and then the long trip up the A9 to Dingwall and basement club Ross County, a hectic schedule but one from which most Hibs fans will be looking for a maximum nine points as they continue their battle with Rangers and Aberdeen for second place in the table.
Bell acknowledged as much, but warned achieving that goal won’t be as straightforward as some might think.
He said: “Each of these games is difficult in its own way. These teams are fighting to stay away from, or get themselves out of, the relegation area and as such they can be the most dangerous because they have huge amounts at stake.
“So we have to prepare for them properly as we will, treat them with respect and then look to put our stamp on each game because we have, I believe, the players capable of beating anyone in the league.
“All we can do is take each game as it comes, and at the moment all focus is on Partick. We have the players to take the three points no matter who the opposition are. Second place is achievable, but it is going to take a really big push. The boys in our changing room are delighted at where we are – and people tend to forget they were playing in the Championship only last season – but you always want to go one better.”
The fact Partick finished in the top six last season but currently find themselves in the relegation play-off spot does, argued Bell, show just how tough the Premiership can be, a league capable of throwing up surprises such as his former club Kilmarnock having rocketed from bottom place to fifth in the space of only a few months.
In fact, Killie now trail Hibs by only six points, Steve Clarke’s players enjoying such a run of form Rugby Park winger Jordan Jones has the Edinburgh club in his sights. Bell, however, insisted he and his team-mates are looking up at the Dons and Rangers rather than glancing over their shoulders.
He said: “Killie have moved into the top six probably rather unexpectedly, but they’ve been in unbelievable form since the new manager came in and deserve to be there.
“They are not far behind us, but we are on a good run ourselves and we are only looking forward and to what is ahead of us because there’s no point looking back.
“It’s going to be a strong top six, but hopefully we can continue playing as we have been. There’s a lot of football still to be played, but I am sure the boys will respond, they are hungry for success.”
Bell’s first professional football match was a 2-0 win for Queen of the South at Palmerston Park ten years ago but, incredibly, since that season he’s only played the Jags once, a League Cup win for Dundee United last season, a statistic he agreed was rather remarkable.
He said: “Partick were the bigger club in that division, but as a local lad I enjoyed my time with Queens, it was a year when they were in Europe. It was then I knew I wanted to play professional football. There’s been a few ups and downs since then but you take them as they come – I think the highs and the lows make you a better goalkeeper and person.
“It’s strange not to have played them more often. We’ve obviously missed each other as we’ve jumped up and down between the divisions, but they’ll be desperate for the points this weekend.”
Bell admitted running out at a packed Easter Road where average gates are the highest since 1957 will be vastly different to that day in Dumfries and while anxious to show the home support what he can do, he insisted winning the match took the greatest priority.
He said: “I’ve obviously played at Easter Road in opposition to Hibs but to get my first game there for the club will be special. I’m delighted to be here and had the opportunity to do myself and the team justice. But it’s not about me or any other individual, it’s the team and Hibernian Football Club that counts.”
Bell insisted he and Marciano hadn’t spoken of the Israeli internationalist’s moment of madness at McDiarmid Park which led to his red card, the 28-year-old charging from his area only to handle the ball just 13 minutes into the match, not only giving his understudy the remainder of that game but Saturday’s match as he serves an automatic ban.
Expressing his sympathy for Marciano, he said: “It’s a bit of a double-whammy for Ofi as it amounts to almost a two-match suspension given it happened so early in the game.
“I haven’t had a chance to chat with Ofi because he’s been away on international duty, but I am sure he knew himself the second he made the decision to come from his box. It was unfortunate, the ball hit his chest and then his arm.
“We’ve all made the wrong call as a goalkeeper. Sometimes you get lucky and get away with it, other times you are punished.
“To me Ofi has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league, but it gives me the opportunity to show what I can do, that I deserve to be here. Ofi and I have a great relationship – we know as goalkeepers that only one of us can play.
“I came here to show what I can do. I’ve been patient, but now I have a chance and hopefully I can take it.
“I think that’s why the manager brought me to the club, he knew that if anything happened to Ofi he could trust me and put me in as he’s seen me play often enough.
“Now it is up to me to put the question in his mind. At the end of the day it is the manager who makes a decision.
“He’ll make the call on who plays when Ofi is available again.”