Marvin Bartley has been the midfield enforcer for Hibs ever since he arrived in Scottish football in summer 2015.
The robust Englishman’s presence in the Easter Road engine room hasn’t gone unnoticed by his team-mates – or his opponents for that matter – having notched up 84 appearances in a green-and-white jersey since Scottish Cup-winning boss Alan Stubbs lured the Reading-born player north from Leyton Orient.
Now under the tutelage of head coach Neil Lennon, the 31-year-old has continued to flourish in his accustomed holding midfield role, helping the Leith side up to third in the Scottish Premiership following a trio of victories over city rivals Hearts, Motherwell and Kilmarnock.
However, Bartley himself readily admits there is one thing missing from his game – goals.
His failure to find the net since arriving at the club almost two-and-a-half years ago has become a source of banter within the Hibs dressing-room, with John McGinn, who scored Hibs’ opener in the 3-0 victory at Rugby Park on Tuesday night, light-heartedly telling the Evening News recently that his team-mate “will never score a goal for Hibs”.
While taking the Scottish internationalist’s comments in good humour, Bartley is, howver, dead set on changing that statistic.
“When I was at Leyton Orient and Burnley I was played a bit further forward but that’s not really part of my game now as I rarely get that high up the pitch. And even when I do the gaffer is telling me to get back,” Bartley said with a wry smile. “Even in training, I’m always that bit further back so not even then do I get that many opportunities.
“But in all seriousness it would be nice to get a goal at some point and, if I don’t, hopefully I’ll get one in training and I can get them to photoshop it on to the pitch at Easter Road!”
The closest Bartley has been to breaking his duck came against tomorrow’s opponents Dundee in August, Lennon’s men forced to settle for a point on Tayside despite passing up numerous opportunities to add to Anthony Stokes’ first-half equaliser, Bartley himself being one of the guilty.
“I got quite excited with that chance it has to be said. I felt like a kid in a brand new playground. There were so many thoughts that ran through my head what to do and before I knew it their goalkeeper was on top of me. I suppose I should really give strikers a bit more respect.”
The visit of Neil McCann’s Dundee this weekend presents the Easter Road club with the opportunity to register a fourth straight win and, with a home encounter against St Johnstone before trips to Partick Thistle and Hamilton within the next month, Bartley acknowledged the onus will be on the players to pick up as many points as they can.
“We’ve performed really well these last three games but prior to that I felt we’d played well against Celtic [Betfred Cup semi-final] in spells and I thought we were very unfortunate to lose out against Aberdeen,” Bartley said. “So it’s nice to be getting the results we deserve.
“It’s not only nine points from nine from our last three games but it’s the three clean sheets as well which is massive because if you want to try and build something this season then clean sheets are vital.
“It’s a good run of fixtures we have coming up but we probably said that the last time and Hamilton turned up and deservedly beat us so we have to be mindful of that.
“You cannot just turn up and expect to win games because you are playing in the highest tier of football in the country. There’s good players in every team but we can approach tomorrow’s match with a lot of confidence and hopefully get the win.”
Bartley has come in for a lot of praise recently on the club’s fan forums but the player will not allow himself to become carried away.
“It’s always nice when you hear good things said about you but I’ve been in football a long time now,” he said. “I try and not get too caught up in it because if results start to go the other way then you can come in for some criticism.
“But the support I’ve had since I’ve been at the club has been absolutely fantastic. I don’t need anyone to stroke my ego, though, I really don’t. As long as my team-mates appreciate me and the manager plays me then I’m perfectly happy.
“The crowds have been great this year and the derby, in particular, it never went quiet once during the 90 minutes. It’s hard to put into words how good the atmosphere was. They’ve really geed us up and been that twelfth man and it’s definitely helped.
“The lads know that people are out working hard during the week and maybe even before the game but the fans are putting their hands in their pockets, when it’s not cheap, and they’re supporting us in big numbers.”
Talisman Anthony Stokes is expected to make his return to the matchday squad following a two-week lay-off having picked up an ankle knock in the Betfred Cup semi-final defeat last month. And Bartley, although delighted to see the Republic of Ireland forward fit and raring to go, has heaped praise on the team-mates who stepped up to the plate in his absence.
“I think sometimes people will look at things and see that Stokesy’s out and want to make a story about it,” he explained.
“They’ll be saying ‘oh where are you going to get your goals from now?’ Yes, Stokesy has scored a fair amount of the goals this season but Simon [Murray] hasn’t been playing. If they were playing together then maybe I could understand that. But we’ve also got Brandon [Barker] and Boyler [Martin Boyle] stretching teams, Dylan [McGeouch] and John [McGinn] going forward too, so it’s very difficult for a team to sit on the striker and mark him out the game.
“Simon has come back into things and he’s taken his opportunity so we’re far from being a one-man team. I think there will always be goals in this side, Oli Shaw is another one coming through and he showed what he can do scoring in the semi-final against Celtic. They’re all champing at the bit to play. Stokesy is a very good player but so is Simon, Oli and Deivydas [Matulevicius].
“It’s not just about scoring goals, you’ve got to look at players’ hold-up play and other ways they can help the team. We’ve got a solid platform from the back so we’ll always believe we can punish teams.”