Marvin Bartley has revealed one thing he’s looking forward to on Hibs’ return to the Ladbrokes Premiership is not facing teams intent on “parking the bus” and determined only to play a game of frustration.
The midfield enforcer admits he’s become weary during his two seasons at Easter Road of being confronted by sides getting all 11 players behind the ball in the hope of escaping with a point.
However, he believes that will now all change with Hibs having finally escaped the clutches of Championship football, promotion having heightened the sense of anticipation among supporters, 12,100 of whom have snapped up season tickets.
While agreeing that’s a fair measure of the sense of expectation with Hibs’ first match in the top flight after a three-year absence now only 11 days away, Bartley insisted he and his team-mates continue to concentrate on fine-tuning their fitness, tonight’s third Betfred Cup match against Arbroath giving them another opportunity to do so.
A comfortable 4-0 victory over Montrose was followed by the disappointment of losing on penalties to Ross County but, argued Bartley, so far pre-season has been going pretty much according to plan.
He said: “I think we played well against Ross County. We controlled the majority of the game.
“It was disappointing to lose on penalties but I’d far rather have that happen now then further down the line. We are still trying to get ourselves up to speed and aiming for the first game of the season – that is all that matters.”
To that end, the visit of League One side Arbroath will, stressed Bartley, be treated with the utmost seriousness. The 31-year-old said: “It would be disrespectful to call them less opposition as we showed last season when we were beating teams in the league above us.
“It will be a massive game for them to come to Easter Road and that can cause problems. They’ll be thinking they can cause an upset.”
Although Neil Lennon’s players will be looking to win tonight and again when they play Alloa Athletic at the weekend, all eyes are on the opening league game of the season, the visit of Partick Thistle which, Bartley agreed, will give them a chance to assess where they stand, the Jags having clinched a top-six finish for the first time last season.
He said: “One of my mates, Abdul Osman, plays for Partick so it will be a good start for us to go in agsainst them to see where we are at.
“It won’t be an easy game – that’s for sure. But the one thing I am looking forward to are teams in the Scottish Premiership not sitting behind the ball at every opportunity.
“They might actually come out and play against us and make it a football match. When I came up here I thought it was pretty strange that when teams played Hibs they had everyone behind the ball and both strikers inside their own half. That’s not really football.”
Joking that it might be Hibs themselves who adopt such a tactic, Bartley was adamant there will be no change in mindset among Lennon’s players saying: “We were expected to win every game last season, home and away. We’ll still want to win every game.
“I think if you try to sit in and take a point then you start causing your own problems. We are a very attacking team and, if you ask those players to start doing jobs they are not used to – to start defending then – it will cause trouble.
“How the manager wants to set the team up is down to him but I’m sure he will want to entertain the fans and win games,
“We know the fans are going to get behind us. They’ve shown that by the number of season tickets they have bought ... fantastic. They have an expectation we’ll be expected to match but fans always have huge expectations. I support Arsenal and want them to win the Premier League. Will it happen? Who knows?
“As players, we try to stay grounded. I’m just trying to take things in my stride at the moment and I’m sure the other boys will be doing the same but it may be when we step out for that first game we realise we’re back in the Premiership.”
By then, Lennon could well have added again to a squad which has been strengthened in the past week with the return of Steven Whittaker and the signing of striker Deivydas Matulevicius with the Hibs boss set to complete a loan deal for a second Lithuanian internationalist Vykintas Silvka and hoping Anthony Stokes will sign on for a third spell at Easter Road after being made “a very strong offer”.
Bartley, though, insisted that regardless of who arrives, he’ll simply concentrate on producing performances against Arbroath and Alloa which, come a week on Saturday, will persuade Lennon to give him his place in the starting line-up to face Partick.
He said: “All you can do is worry about yourself no matter who comes in or who we are linked with. You want to make sure you keep possession of your shirt but whoever comes through the door will be welcomed into the changing room.”
Lennon will also find his options increased with the return to action of Paul Hanlon, the defender playing an hour of Sunday’s friendly against Selkirk having had the second half of last season wrecked by a pelvic problem which ultimately required surgery.
But the manager admitted tonight’s game was probably too soon for him while Matulevicius is still awaiting international clearance to play.
He said: “I’ve spoken to Paul and he felt good. He was pain-free for the first time in a long time. I’ll speak to our medical team but he’s only had an hour of football in six months so it might be too soon for him.”