Hibs’ Paul Hanlon keen to play Premiership teams every week

Paul Hanlon is joined by his team-mates after scoring Hibs' equaliser against Hearts. Pic: SNS
Paul Hanlon is joined by his team-mates after scoring Hibs' equaliser against Hearts. Pic: SNS
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They’ve taken on Aberdeen, Dundee United, St Johnstone and now Hearts and emerged unbeaten from all four encounters with Premiership opposition.

But as impressive a record as that may be, Hibs defender Paul Hanlon admitted it only adds to the frustration that he and his team-mates feel at not facing such opposition on a weekly basis.

So, as much as he is looking forward to next Tuesday’s Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road – thanks to his last-gasp equaliser against Hearts – Hanlon insisted he has eyes only for Saturday night’s Championship clash at Livingston.

Aberdeen, United and Saints were all beaten to set up a League Cup final against another top flight club in Ross County next month, a match set to see a 30,000-strong green-and-white army descend on Hampden with the hope being Alan Stubbs’ side can take another step towards a second visit to the national stadium by taking care of Hearts in the fifth round replay on their own turf.

Exciting times, but Hanlon insisted: “We’ve done superbly in the cup competitions. It’s great being involved, but what really matters is getting this club back to the Premiership. That’s our main focus.

“There is a frustration to 
have played these sides and to have done so well because we want to be playing them every week. However, the only way to deal with that is by getting promoted.”

As such, Saturday evening’s trip to Livingston might be seen as an unwanted distraction, much in the way Hibs league game against Morton at Cappielow a week ago`was regarded, coming as it did between the League Cup semi-final triumph and what’s turned out to be the first of two unexpected Edinburgh derbies.

Hanlon, however, was adamant Stubbs’ players proved in Greenock that they can handle such situations. He said: “The league is our bread and butter. We got a hard-fought win at Morton by ensuring we only focus on the next game and that’s what we’ll be doing this week.

“Livingston is a tough place to go. I quite like the look of them this year from what I have seen. They have some good players and are probably in a false position in the table, but it’s a game to look forward to and one we’ll obviously be going into with confidence sky-high.”

Stubbs approach of ensuring his players don’t get too high or allow disappointments to drag them down as seen the Capital club lose just once in 25 matches, a record enhanced by Hanlon’s late strike at Tynecastle, sending the 3400 or so Hibs fans packed behind Neil Alexander’s goal wild, his second goal of the season coming after striker Jason Cummings’ 19th had thrown his side a lifeline after they’d found themselves 2-0 down at half-time.

Hanlon’s only other goal 
this campaign proved to be just as valuable, the winner against Chamionship title rivals 
Rangers at Easter Road, the importance of such strikes not lost on the 26-year-old defender. He said: “Last season I got a couple of goals against Cowdenbeath and two against Dumbarton, but I’ve managed to get them in the bigger games this time round.

“I’m happy to get my name on the scoresheet at any time, but it’s even better when they come when they really matter.”

Stubbs claimed his side’s latest performance had “rammed it down the throats” of those who accuse Hibs of lacking bottle and Hanlon was more than happy to agree with his boss, saying: “Over the years we probably haven’t turned up in big games, but we are putting that tight.

“We’ve got many, many big games coming up this season and we are looking forward to every one of them. I think we’ve proved in these two games at Tynecastle in the past week or so that we can cope with anything. We went ahead against St Johnstone, were pegged back very quickly, but had enough to go and win it.

“Then to be two down against Hearts who are flying in the top league and to come back and get a draw which probably felt more like a win for our fans, shows we have nothing to fear against Premiership teams.”

And Hanlon insisted that 
despite finding themselves in a seemingly impossible position, no-one in the away dressing room in Gorgie lost belief that they could still overcome the odds stacked so heavily against them.

He said: “We didn’t feel we deserved to be two down, but these things happen in football. What matters, though, is how you react. We said at half-time it was a matter of getting one and then we’d be right back in the game.”

Hibs did that with ten minutes remaining, top-scorer Cummings getting his head to Liam Henderson’s cross to send a header looping into the top corner of Alexander’s net before Hanlon struck just as fourth official Kevin Clancy was raising his board to indicate four minutes of added-on time.

Hanlon recalled: “I was looking on from the other end when Jason got that header in. It seemed to take an age before it hit the net. We felt there was only one team in it at that stage. Then Neil Alexander had a great save from Darren McGregor’s header and the ball came out towards me.

“I was thinking I’d half-volley it with my right foot but my standing leg went from under me and it turned more into a slide to get to the ball. But I managed to get it on target, it went through a lot of bodies and into the net – I was over the moon.

“My right foot isn’t my best, but I’m maybe a bit better with it having played right centre back so often. I had the confidence to try it with my right foot and it paid off.

“On reflection, being two down and to get was a great result, especially at Tynecastle which is a tough place to visit.”

It also prompted Sunshine on Leith being played at full-blast in the away dressing room after the final whistle, Hanlon revealing: “That was up to our kit man Tam McCourt. He put it on – I wasn’t complaining.”

While some may feel Hibs now have the edge, Hanlon insisted: “I think it’s pretty much even. They will come and fancy their chances, but we are doing well, one defeat in 25 games and unbeaten at home in the league and League Cup, a record we want to keep going.”