For years Hibs fans have bemoaned the lack of a “Matty Jack” character in the middle of the pitch. But now, believes Easter Road defender Paul Hanlon, they may just have found one in Marvin Bartley.
German ace Jack is still revered by the Capital club’s support, memories of his powerhouse performances still fresh, although it is now 12 years since he last pulled on a green-and-white shirt.
Signed from Fortuna Dusseldorf by Alex McLeish, Jack was initially seen as a centre-half, but the former Hibs boss pulled a masterstroke in moving him into midfield, where he proved to be the perfect foil for the silkier skills of Russell Latapy as French legend Franck Sauzee stepped back alongside Gary Smith and Paul Fenwick.
His role was a simple one, to break up opposition play and win the ball for Latapy, John O’Neill and, latterly, Grant Brebner, a task he attacked with relish and one which made him a firm fans favourite.
Hanlon may only have been a boy at that time, but he vividly remembers the part Jack played and the attributes he now sees in Bartley, an unsung hero who is perfectly happy to go un-noticed as the midfield enforcer who gives the likes of Dylan McGeouch, Liam Henderson and John McGinn the freedom to get forward while sitting as a “shield” in front of his defenders.
“It’s great having big Marv there,” revealed Hanlon, “There’s no way he’ll never be there for you. He’s just a natural sitting in there, putting in a lot of unseen work, which for Liam Fontaine and myself his great.
“Every time a sitting midfield player has come to the club fans have asked, ‘is he going to be like Matty Jack?’ At Chelsea it’s known as the Claude Makelele role, here at Easter Road it’s the Matty Jack role and to me Marv could be the closest we have had to that type.
“He does it superbly – that’s what he loves doing. He just want to give the ball to the players who will attack while he mops things up. If we lose the ball in midfield he’s desperate to get it back for us. For Liam and myself especially he is a massive help – he saves us a lot of work.
“I remember Matty Jack as a power in the middle of the park and if Marv if remembered as well by the Hibs fans he will have done well here. And he’ll actually get stronger – he’s picking up fitness and is raring to go in every game.”
Bartley’s presence has helped propel Alan Stubbs’ side to four straight wins without conceding a goal, the latest victory a narrow one against the Championship’s basement club Livingston secured by Liam Henderson’s stunning free-kick just four minutes into the second half.
But as enjoyable as the win might have been Hanlon, unsurprisingly for a defender, took even greater joy from not conceding again, the former Scotland Under-21 captain playing a significant part in taking the three points by clearing Livingston striker Liam Buchanan’s shot off the line after goalkeeper Mark Oxley had blocked Scott Pittman’s initial effort.
It was a significant moment with the game still goalless after both Jason Cummings and Dominique Malonga had failed to take early chances, the latter somehow inexplicably hitting the post from a few yards out.
Hanlon said: “It’s great to be keeping clean sheets. As a back four that’s something you look to do at the start of every game. If we are solid at the back it gives the attack-minded players the licence to go and express themselves.
“We had to work for our clean sheet as Livingston were fighting for every ball and made it hard for us. It was good to clear that one off the line but that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Ox in the first place. Moments like that can get you the three points, especially when the game was as tight as it was, but then we got a great winner from Liam.”
Hibs were nine games into last season before they recorded their first shut-out, something they’ve now achieved six times in the same number of matches this time round and Hanlon is certain that total will continue to climb, although he acknowledges Hibs face a stern test when they face Premiership leaders Aberdeen in tomorrow night’s League Cup third round clash at Easter Road.
The 25-year-old, who is fast closing in on a milestone 250 games for Hibs, said: “At the start of last season we were still finding our feet. Players have come here this summer a wee bit behind fitness-wise, but that’s now building up and it’s great to feel that we are looking very solid, hopefully that’s the way it will continue.
“There’s the feeling at the moment that no-one is going to get through. You know if you are going into a tackle your mate is right behind you ready to go. We’ve got a massive test tomorrow night, Aberdeen are flying. But we want to keep building on our performances, We have a lot of attacking skill in our own squad so we need to be strong at the back to give them that platform. So far we have done that and it has left us full of confidence and ready to meet the challenge playing what is the top team in the country at the moment is going to give us.”