Ofir Marciano’s red card has offered Cammy Bell a chance he is determined to grab by taking the gloves from the goalkeeper he believes has been the best in the country this season.
Bell was called from the bench as Marciano was sent off for handling the ball outside his penalty area only 13 minutes into Hibs’ Premiership clash against St Johnstone on Friday night.
And, with the Israeli internationalist set to serve an automatic suspension when Neil Lennon’s players face Partick Thistle a week on Saturday, he’ll be afforded another opportunity to force his way into the Easter Road coach’s thoughts.
The 31-year-old said: “I was delighted to get a game although it was unfortunate for Ofir who, for me, has probably been the best goalkeeper in the league this year. Obviously, he’ll be banned so I will play against Partick and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Bell agreed, however, that sometimes careers can be built on such moments. Pointing out how his predecessor at Hibs, Scott Bain, had made the most of his surprise debut as Celtic played Rangers only a few days earlier, he said: “Scott went into the Old Firm game and had a great game. Everything can change after one game, we all know that. It was a happy night for me to get on the pitch and play some football. It was my first game since the play-off final with Dundee United at the end of last season.”
Signed until the end of the season only hours after deciding to quit Kilmarnock on transfer deadline day, Bell was adamant he didn’t feel in any way “rusty” given his long spell of inactivity.
He said: “Training has been of a high quality. Alan Combe is a top goalie coach, he keeps you on your toes. He was probably a bit part of me coming to Hibs in the first place, I’ve known him as the goalkeeper above me at Kilmarnock. I’ve known him for years.
“I think his training keeps me sharp. I didn’t feel rusty at all, I felt confident with the boys. I’ve played with Darren [McGregor] in front of me as well which helped.”
And Bell revealed being called upon so early in the match actually helped him even though he knew it was going to be a tough shift as Hibs battled to hang on to the second-minute lead Efe Ambrose’s header had given them.
He said: “The circumstances were difficult, the weather, the pitch, being a substitute goalie – it wasn’t ideal. But I enjoyed it. It was probably beneficial it was early in the game because we prepare both goalies to be warm and ready to go, so I was prepared. I’d had such circumstances in my career before, so it was nothing I feared.”
As he anticipated, Bell had a busy evening, pulling of a superb save from Saint defender Joe Shaugnessy and bravely throwing himself at the feet for striker Chris Kane to deny the Perth club a goal only to be finally beaten by Kane with just seven minutes left on the clock.
Admitting he was beginning to believe Hibs had “got away with it” at that moment, he said: “You do start to think that the closer you get to the end of the game. Unfortunately, we lost the goal but we gathered ourselves well afterwards because it can soon become a long ten minutes when you lost a goal and are down to ten men.
“They got a lift from their goal but we managed to get everyone back together, we weathered the storm although they had a couple of wee chances and we rode our luck a wee bit.
“I knew we’d be under the cosh but I felt as if the boys defended really well. St Johnstone is a tough place to go to with eleven men, never mind ten. It was disappointing to lose the goal but we have to take the positives, we showed our battling qualities and there was some quality football in there as well.”
There was a moment of worry when Bell needed treatment after picking up a leg injury in making that save from Kane a couple of minutes before the interval, but he said: “It was just a deal leg that I knew was going to bother me for the rest of the game and it did get worse. But it was nothing serious, just an impact injury which is one of those things.
“It would have taken a lot more than that to get me off the pitch. I don’t know if any of the guys had been designated to take over but I wouldn’t have trusted any of them.”
Having brushed off that injury, Bell ensured Hibs didn’t go away empty-handed as he threw himself to his left to touch a Scott Tanser free-kick deep into added-on time on to his bar before, with the help of McGregor, grabbing the ball.
However, Bell revealed, he thought he’d only managed to push the ball into his net. He said: “As soon as David Wotherspoon ran over it I knew he was going to hit it to that side so I had to gamble he was going to get it up and over the wall. But when I took the dive I honestly didn’t think I’d got enough on it.
“I thought I’d touched it into the net but then Darren has done well when it fell down from the bar on to the line and into my arms. But you need that wee bit of luck going down to ten men.
“We rode our luck at times but we also had some other opportunities where we might have done better, but it was a good point.”