Hibs boss right ‘to make defence a priority’

Ofir Marciano was delighted to clinch a four-year contract
Ofir Marciano was delighted to clinch a four-year contract
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Hibs fans may be worrying about where the goals are going to come from now top scorer for the past three seasons Jason Cummings has moved on to Nottingham Forest.

But ex-Easter Road player Graham Mitchell believes a rock-solid defence will be every bit as important to boss Neil Lennon as he takes his side back into the Premiership following a three year absence.

However, to that end he’s delighted his old club will be doing so with a group of defenders who know each other’s games inside out with goalkeeper Ofir Marciano clinching a four-year deal to rejoin the likes of skipper David Gray, Darren McGregor, Paul Hanlon, Liam Fontaine, Efe Ambrose and Lewis Stevenson.

Having played in front of goalkeepers such as Alan Rough, Andy Goram, John Burridge and Jim Leighton, Mitchell fully appreciates the part a settled back four can play.

He said: “It’s true strikers win games, but goalkeepers and defenders are every bit as important. One person can score a goal in the last minute and you win the game 1-0 but if you defender properly, don’t give much away then you are always going to have the chance to scrape a goal.

“With the type of players they are going to come up against they – along with the midfielders – will have to work that much harder as they won’t have as much of the ball, to keep the opposition team up the park and away from their goal.

“In the Championship Hibs dominated the ball, enjoyed the vast majority of possession in most of their games but this coming season it will be a lot different, they might not even get it half the time in some games.

“The spine of any team is the goalkeeper, the two central defenders, central midfield and the striker, to me that’s where games are won and lost. But the back four is one of the few departments in a team that doesn’t change much if everyone stays fit.

“Midfielders and strikers can be dropped or rested but not at the back.

“The best example is probably Chelsea last season. They eventually went to a back three, but while the midfield and attacking players changed they had the most solid defence in Britain and went on to win the Premier League.

“Manchester City were probably the favourites but they chopped and changed so a good, settled defence makes a big difference.”

For a long spell last season Hibs boasted the best defence in the country but, as Mitchell pointed out, those players will come under much greater scrutiny in the coming months. He said: “They are going to come under more pressure than they have done in the past few years.

“They are stepping up a level, mistakes are much more likely to be punished so while I know Hibs fans demand entertaining football with goals being scored, they are going to have to establish a firm footing in the Premiership.

“I know Lennon has said he would like to be second but personally speaking I think that is a bit ambitious. Look at Partick Thistle, last Christmas they were near the bottom of the league but went on a bit of a run and made the top six.

“The league was a bit different because it was so tight in the bottom six but I feel if Hibs can be running about fifth or sixth then a top-six finish would be a success and something to build on for the following season.”

Marciano and co may be familiar with each other but, insisted Mitchell, they’ll have to work just as hard on the training ground every day saying: “It doesn’t matter how many years you have been playing together you have to work at it to stay at the top of your game.”

However, he admitted, the secret to ensuring the defence stays strong is communication with Israeli internationalist Marciano having a key role to play.

He said: “Talking is important, probably even more so when you have the ball. That’s when you can lose concentration for a moment thinking there is no danger but then one poor pass and you are bring hit by a counter attack.

“The goalkeeper can see everything, defenders can be caught on the half-turn and in that split second you can lose your man so you are needing the man behind you to perhaps stay up or deepen a bit.

“As I’ve said, Hibs won’t be dominating as they have been, they’ll have a good bit more defending to do so they have to talk, not just the goalkeeper and back four, but the midfield as well because there will be opposition players looking to make clever runs, trying to take you into positions you don’t want to be in to let someone else in.

“Of course there will be fall-outs when a goal is lost, I think goalkeepers must be taught when that happens it is always someone else’s fault although Jim Leighton was probably one of the few who wasn’t like that.

“But you don’t do it out there on the pitch, letting the opposition see they have you rattled a bit, you keep it for the changing room.”