Jamie Maclaren pinpointed the German connection as a factor in the fruitful partnership he has struck up with fellow on-loan striker Florian Kamberi at Hibs.
The arrival of the two attackers in the mid-season transfer window is viewed as a major reason behind the Easter Road side’s surge into contention for second place in the Scottish Premiership. Since Kamberi signed at the end of January, Hibs have taken 20 points from a possible 24. In that eight-game run, the duo have accounted for nine of Hibs’ 16 goals - the Australian with three and the Swiss notching six.
As well as their goals, their general link-up play has been a notable feature of Hibs’ recent upturn after they had appeared to be losing their way when winning only three of their 12 matches between mid-November and mid-January. Maclaren and Kamberi have also forged a bond off the pitch, and the Aussie believes the fact both of them have played in Germany’s second tier – Maclaren with parent club Darmstadt earlier this season and Kamberi while on loan at Karlsruhe from Grasshoppers Zurich last season – has helped them click.
“I can understand German and when Flo first came in, I was trying to help him settle – we went for dinner together and things like that,” said Maclaren. “We’ve obviously both played in Germany and I think that’s played a part in us understanding each other’s game. The big and small partnership seems to work well. Flo likes to use his physical presence and I like to use my pace and movement to run in behind. I think we complement each other well.”
Although they have accounted for nine goals between them in Hibs’ last eight matches, Maclaren and Kamberi are yet to score in the same game. “We joke that we still haven’t scored in the same game,” said Maclaren. “He scores in one game and I don’t, and then I score in the next one. It’s a good little partnership we’ve got but we wouldn’t have the goals we’ve got if it wasn’t for the boys between us feeding us the ammunition.”
After a frustrating first half of the season at his parent club, it is clear that Maclaren is relishing playing a prominent role in a Hibs team riding the crest of a wave and “smelling something special”, as he puts it. The Easter Road side sit fourth in the Premiership, just four points behind second-place Aberdeen, in their first season back in the top flight following three years in the Championship.
“Since I came to the club in January we’ve just kept getting better and better,” said Maclaren. “It’s obviously exciting to play regularly and chip in with some goals in a successful team going for second place. We’re in a good place at the moment. The confidence is sky high and it’s a great environment to be in. There are smiles all around the training ground – it doesn’t get much better than this. I’m smelling something special with this club. We’ve come so far and we’re within touching distance of second place. I can’t see too much disturbing us just now because we’re on a roll.”
Hibs have some potentially high-stakes fixtures beckoning after the split, but Maclaren knows the importance of ensuring they don’t take their eye off the ball when they play their final pre-split match away to relegation-threatened Ross County tomorrow. “We’ve played both Aberdeen and Rangers in the last two months and beaten them. I felt like we handled those games well so we don’t fear anybody. We’ve come so far, so we don’t want to drop away now. We’re just focusing on taking it week by week. The Ross County game is so important. You can’t take any game lightly in this league. Ross County had a good win in midweek, so these are the type of games you’ve got to win if you want to challenge at the top of the league. We’ll give our all this week and then we have a week off to freshen up and prepare for the games after the split. We know what we have to do between now and the end of the season.”
After arriving at Hibs short of match fitness three months ago, Maclaren feels like he is now nearing peak condition. “When I first came in I needed to get my fitness up and show Neil Lennon I was ready to start games,” he said. “It took a while to get my first start but other than that, it’s been great. You’ve got to be mindful of going from zero to 100 but I’ve built up my fitness and my body can handle three games a week now. I’m feeling really good, really healthy. In terms of match fitness, I feel like I’m right up there. I’m confident in myself and I’m confident with the boys behind me.”
Maclaren’s current state of contentment is in stark contrast to his predicament towards the end of 2017 after his eagerly-awaited move from Brisbane Roar to Germany last summer had failed to deliver what he had hoped. “I’ve discovered that you’ve got to be happy off the field as well,” said Maclaren. “In Germany, they tried to play me as a midfielder because I was small and quite nippy and I used to come home and be a bit depressed because I was in a foreign country and wasn’t playing my position. Coming here was refreshing. From the first chat I had with Neil, he told me I’d be coming here to score goals and that gave me confidence because I knew I’d be playing in my right position. It suits me, I’m happy here, and although it’s a short-term loan, you never know what the future holds.”