Hibs ace backs 'world class' team-mates ahead of Rangers rematch in Scottish Cup

Maolida (pictured celebrating the opener against County) and Marcondes are elite talents, according to Will Fish.Maolida (pictured celebrating the opener against County) and Marcondes are elite talents, according to Will Fish.
Maolida (pictured celebrating the opener against County) and Marcondes are elite talents, according to Will Fish.
Clean sheet and added firepower adds to confidence ahead of Easter Road quarter-final

Based not merely on game time but on everything he sees on the training pitch every day, Will Fish has no hesitation in putting a world class tag on two of Hibernian’s most impressive January signings. As he’s often up against Myziane Maolida and Emi Marcondes in those sessions out at East Mains, he’s well placed to judge.

The on-loan Manchester United centre-half, banking on his team’s newfound defensive solidity to give Rangers a shock in next weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at Easter Road, believes Nick Montgomery is building a team capable of competing with anyone in Scotland. Especially when it comes to creating chances.

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Singling out attacking midfielder Emi and winger/forward Myziane, Fish said: "When you look at Marcondes and Maolida, they are world class players. Those two coming into the club in January has helped us massively and given us something different we didn’t have.

"It is a team game and it's not just down to those two, but they are really, really influential. Maolida just enjoys playing football and he's really tidy on the ball, knows when to pass it and when to take players on - so long may it continue."

Looking ahead to a game with the potential define an entire season, against opponents who have scored seven goals without reply in their last two head-to-head encounters, Hibs will obviously need to improve on their previous meetings with Rangers. A first clean sheet in the league since early December, then, represents a sweet bit of timing.

For the guys who form the last line of defence in Montgomery’s team, putting a big duck egg next to the opposition – even if it was ONLY Ross County – was a real confidence booster. Within the Hibs camp, there’s a feeling that a change to a more flexible formation, the addition of new faces and the return of old friends from international duty renders their 4-0 and 3-0 defeats to Rangers earlier this season virtually irrelevant.

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Fish said: "I've seen a lot in terms of improvement (since those games). We changed to a three-man midfield and as a defensive unit feels a lot more solid and secure.

"So it will be interesting to see how that pans out (against Rangers). Look, it's all down to what we do and how much desire we show.

“I’d say we’ve turned a corner. Our recent form has been pretty good. We have had a few draws that we should have picked up three points from.

"But that's football and football is about momentum. So we are looking at the future. Most of the games coming up are easily winnable.

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"There will be a big crowd for the Scottish Cup game, and we are really looking forward to it after the good week we have had. We'll get back to the training pitches this week and do everything we can to get a good result on Sunday.”

For a team who had been losing goals at about one-and-a-half per game, in the Scottish Premiership, keeping County off the scoresheet was arguably the most important element in their 2-0 victory, Fish acknowledging: "We've not had as many (clean sheets) as we would like this season and that's something we have been working on. But we did our job. I think overall we defended quite well because we limited them to chances.”

The return of Rocky Bushiri from a non-playing roll at AFCON has been a factor, clearly, Fish saying of his central defensive partner: “It's been really good having him back. You know what you are getting from him. He's a no-nonsense defender. I think he's done really well since he came back.

"It was good to get the win and a clean sheet, and I think overall it's been a pretty good week for us with seven points out of nine. This was our third game this week so there were quite a few tired legs. But we have stuck with the same team, and I feel we have built quite a bit of momentum now. That's something we are going to take with us for the rest of the season.”

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The change of shape from Montgomery’s initial blueprint is widely credited with having been a factor, the arrival of Marcondes, in particular, making it much more logical to switch to a 4-2-3-1 that creates a midfield trio out of possession. If nothing else, it doesn’t leave quite the same gaps exposed to opponents able to move the ball at pace.

"When the gaffer came in, we were 4-4-2,” said Fish, the 21-year-old adding: “But results made us switch to a three so I think we have been a lot better attacking and defending in that shape. Whatever the manager wants us to do, we will do our best.”

Beyond getting back to Hampden for a second semi-final of the season, the goal remains qualifying for European football via the league table, Fish agreeing: "Of course it's the aim. Nothing is impossible. You look at that team we have out there, and it is full of goals with really good attacking and creative players. So as we long as we stick to what we know as a team and stick to our principles we will be all right.

“The top six is the minimum we expect, I think a lot of our games left are against teams below us. So we have got a really good chance to kick on and get a really good end to the season.”

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