Just a few weeks ago Hibs’ season appeared to be slowly but surely fading, a run of just three wins in 17 matches causing the Easter Road side to slide into the lower half of the Premiership table.
Only a Scottish Cup quarter-final clash with Celtic offered even a slight hope that the Edinburgh side might salvage something from an increasingly underwhelming campaign.
Goals from James Forrest and Scott Brown, however, shattered that dream, but goalkeeper Ofir Marciano feels Hibs still have much to play for, three successive league wins under new boss Paul Heckingbottom lifting them into sixth place, hard on the heels of Capital neighbours Hearts and only six points behind fourth placed Kilmarnock.
“The most important thing now,” Marciano insisted, “is that we finish in the top six, to keep pushing forward. We don’t think about going for fourth or anything like that at the moment. We just take it game by game, try to win as many points as we can and then see where that takes us.
“We had a great second half to last season, but while everyone will be hoping for more of the same, last season is gone. We are a different team, a different squad, a different manager, different circumstances.”
After an intense period in which Heckingbottom and his assistant Robbie Stockdale began stamping their own thoughts on the squad they inherited from Neil Lennon, Marciano and his team-mates were rewarded with a couple of days off following their Cup defeat, returning today to begin preparing for the visit of Rangers on Friday.
Marciano said: “It was a really big disappointment to go out the cup. It was really important for us as a club and players to go through and give the fans another amazing day out at Hampden.
“We always knew it was going to be difficult against Celtic. They have the best quality players in Scotland and it’s never easy when you have a team like that who can move the ball, create chances and score goals.
“I thought we worked hard in and out of possession but possibly tired a little in the last half-hour. I don’t think you can blame anyone for the loss – every player gave 100 per cent.”
The irony of losing to a Celtic side managed by Lennon only weeks after he’d left Easter Road under as yet unexplained circumstances wasn’t lost on Marciano, who said: “Neil did a great job here for two-and-a-half years, you have to respect that.
“But the new gaffer has come in and he’s trying to build his own philosophy and creativity. It’s been good working with him and Robbie. We’re enjoying it, our results in the league have been good and it’s up to us to keep that run going.
“Finishing in the top six is very important to us. With the squad we have, I think we deserve it, but we also have to earn it. The league is such that, as we saw when we had that bad run, you can quickly slip down the table, but now with a good run we’ve put ourselves back up there.
“The next five games are going to be vital and we start with another tough one against Rangers. They are obviously one of the best teams in Scotland, but you always raise your game against the better sides and we have had two draws already against them this season, so we know that with hard work we are capable of doing that.”
If it has been a season of fluctuating fortunes for Hibs, it’s been one of frustration for Marciano, the 29-year-old requiring surgery last summer on a hand injury, a situation which saw Adam Bogdan arrive on loan from Liverpool.
And when fit, he found himself sitting on the bench until the Hungarian internationalist himself suffered a slight injury, allowing Marciano to finally make his first appearance of the season, a 1-0 win away to Hamilton ending a run of seven matches without defeat.
A victory over Celtic – and another clean sheet – looked to have confirmed him again as Lennon’s No.1, but only 14 minutes into the next match – at home to Rangers – a calf injury forced him off.
Bogdan again took over only to suffer concussion in a clash last in the Scottish Cup win over Elgin City, opening the door again for Marciano, who has kept his place as his team-mate continues to recover from that head knock.
Having made only 13 appearances, he said: “It’s been a weird season for me, but now I am just very happy and grateful to be playing again, trying to do my best, working hard on improving my game and looking to become a better goalkeeper.”
And while strikers Florian Kamberi and Marc McNulty claimed many of the headlines for their goals as Heckingbottom’s side defeated Hamilton, Dundee and St Johnsone, Marciano’s part in at least a couple of those wins proved equally important.
With his side 2-1 up at against Dundee at Dens Park, Marciano pulled off a terrific save from Andy Dales, Hibs capitalising with two quick-fire strikes from McNulty and Stevie Mallan to clinch the points.
Five days later, he threw himself at the feet of St Johnstone’s Jason Kerr to prevent him claiming a last-minute equaliser as Hibs clinched a first win at McDiarmid Park since 2013.
“That’s my job,” he predictably claimed, before adding: “Winning those matches was the most important thing, but I was happy to help my team-mates.
“They were great moments for me. Sometimes if you can pull off a good save it can lift the supporters, who give the players confidence. If you look at any league, big goalies make big saves for their team.
“Those saves came at important times for us and perhaps helped us build the momentum we’ve had in recent games, but they are the result of all the hard work you put in at training and the concentration you need during matches to be there when you are called upon.”