Hibs’ Paul Hanlon recalls ‘slide tackle’ that denied Hearts

Paul Hanlon (on ground) scores Hibs' late equaliser at Tynecastle in February 2016
Paul Hanlon (on ground) scores Hibs' late equaliser at Tynecastle in February 2016
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Paul Hanlon reckons it was the best tackle he ever made, sliding in to fire the ball into the net to send the Hibs fans behind that goal at Tynecastle wild.

It’s a moment both he and every Easter Road supporter will never forget, an unlikely equaliser when, with only ten minutes to go, Alan Stubbs’ side found themselves trailing 2-0 to their Capital rivals and facing yet another year of Scottish Cup heartache.

Paul Hanlon is confident Hibs can get three points tonight

Paul Hanlon is confident Hibs can get three points tonight

Jason Cummings had thrown his side a lifeline, halving the deficit with a glancing header, before Hanlon, who will tonight play in his 23rd Edinburgh derby, stepped up to score what remains his only goal against Hearts to date.

No-one, least of all Hanlon, knew it at the time but it proved to be possibly the greatest turning point in Hibs’ history, a Cummings goal winning the replay a few days later and ultimately paving the way for the club to lift a trophy which had eluded them for 114 years.

“It’s not until you look back at that run you realise how important it was to keep us in the cup,” admitted the central defender.

“I just remember sliding in with my right foot – it probably looked more like a slide tackle than a volley or anything like that.

“It managed to go through the bodies and then the stand erupted and, as a boy, you are involved in that as a fan and it’s amazing. But to make it happen on the pitch was an unbelievable thing.

“It was a special goal. I got us the replay. I still get fans talking about it now and obviously the fact we went on and won the cup makes it even better.

“I think with these games when something like that happens it feels more like a win than a draw so it maybe gave us the upper hand going into the replay.”

Going on to win the cup, though, never entered Hanlon’s head, the 27-year-old saying: “It was too early for that, to be honest, especially with our record.

“It just gave us confidence going into the replay. Even when we were 2-0 down, we never felt we should have been, so we felt we got what we deserved.”

Hibs repeated the trick last season, earning a 0-0 draw at Tynecastle before giving Hearts the runaround to win 3-1 and so knock them out of the Scottish Cup again and, although Hanlon did miss those games through injury, it extended the Easter Road outfit’s derby-day record to seven unbeaten, one they’d dearly love to extend even further tonight.

But Hanlon conceded Hearts willl be a different proposition with Craig Levein having replaced Ian Cathro and overseen a revival in the Gorgie club’s form, the Jambos’ win over St Johnstone at the weekend lifting them above Hibs in the Premiership table.

He said: “We are on a good run and it’s one we want to keep going. Both teams have changed since we last played so it’s going to be a completely different fixture. But we are full of confidence and ready to go.”

Levein has expressed the opinion that having a number of homegrown players in his side will enhance Hearts’ chances, a view Hanlon doesn’t necessarily share.

He said: “I don’t know if it will make a difference or not. It can maybe help players if you have boys who haven’t been involved in these games before.

“Players like myself, Lewis Stevenson and big Daz [Darren McGregor], who was brought up in Leith, can maybe speak to boys who haven’t been involved before.

“But when the whistle is blown, it’s a game of football. These are the games you want to play in. And no matter what background you have it’s an exciting game to be involved in.

“I haven’t seen much of them but their games have been quite tight, there haven’t been many goals. It’s what I would expect for this game but we just need to concentrate on ourselves.

“With the squad we have, I am more than confident we can get the three points.”

Hanlon agreed there was another side to having players immersed in their club’s history in that sometimes they can be too wound up by the occasion although he insisted: “In terms of preparation, I try and treat them all the same and not get too high or too low.

“I’m just as excited about tonight’s game as I was my first derby, to be honest. But I try to prepare the same way for every single game. I don’t try and do anything different because it’s Hearts. I eat properly, sleep when I normally would.”

Hibs go into the game having won just two of their last nine fixtures although boss Neil Lennon is adamant his players aren’t far away from getting back to winning ways and have already put the disappointment of losing their Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic behind them.

And he insisted a derby was the perfect stage on which to bounce back. He said: “I don’t think the players are sore, they are disappointed. I have nothing to berate them for other than a few minor issues in the game where they could have done better.

“In the second half, we played ever so well against the top team in the country. We didn’t go under. There wasn’t wave after wave of pressure. But the minor details all add up.

“But what a game to come back into. It’s a home derby. It will be a full house. They haven’t had too much time to dwell on things and they are chirpy again. We’re not very far away from being a very good side at this level.”

Hanlon agreed, the former Scotland Under-21 skipper saying: “The opposition we have played – Celtic, Aberdeen and Celtic again – is up there with the best in Scottish football but I think our peformances have been good enough in all of the games.

“We deserved more from the Aberdeen game and Celtic at Parkhead was a great chance to get three points. So, although we were disappointed to drop points and go out of the cup, we still have belief in the squad to go out and get the three points.”

Hearts may enjoy a psychological boost having leapfrogged their biggest rivals, tonight’s match giving them the chance to open up a five-point gap on Hibs but, insisted Hanlon, it was far too early in the season to be talking in such terms.

He said: “They might take something from that but for me it’s too early. We still haven’t played every team in the league, and we have a game in hand as well. It will definitely look better once we get these three points.”

And what would it take to top that equalising goal at Tynecastle? “The winner,” grinned Hanlon.