As far as Ofir Marciano is concerned it’s payback time, the Hibs goalkeeper determined to settle the debt he feels he owes boss Neil Lennon in the only way he can – by keeping clean sheets.
The Israeli internationalist has come through the toughest spell of his Easter Road career, sitting out five matches, the upshot of a complicated combination of factors including form, religion and family.
Marciano found himself on the sharp end of Lennon’s tongue after Motherwell fought back from two goals down to snatch a draw in the Capital, leaving few surprised when his understudy Ross Laidlaw stepped in for the following match, a Betfred Cup victory over Livingston.
His absence for the next game, away to Ross County, was explained by the fact he would be missing Hibs’ trip to Celtic Park a few days later as he observed the Jewish calendar’s most holy day, Yom Kippur. The birth of his first child, a boy who he and his model wife Shelly have named Sun, led to a fourth game out, a place on the bench for the Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic then the best he could ask for given Laidlaw’s performances.
The former Raith Rovers player, however, had a day to forget at Hampden, prompting Marciano’s return and with it a run of three consecutive shut-outs against Hearts, Motherwell and Kilmarnock which have seen the Capital outfit soar to third place in the Premiership.
Throughout, revealed Marciano, Lennon has given him all the support required, the Hibs boss readily understanding when the man he regards as his No.1 told him weeks in advance that his faith meant he wouldn’t be able to play in the league game against Celtic at the end of September.
He said: “It was tough, a big sacrifice for me, especially a game against Celtic as it would have been the first time I had played against them. However, Yom Kippur is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar.
“We observe it, it’s a special day between you and God and you have to fast and pray; we do it every year. The Jewish calendar is different to yours, so when we saw the fixtures I saw immediately Yom Kippur fell on the day of the Celtic match and I went straight to the gaffer to tell him. I explained what it was and he fully understood and I really appreciated that. He allowed me to practise my beliefs, all the Jewish players were not playing on this day. Nir Bitton, for example, wasn’t in the Celtic squad. It wasn’t just me.”
Lennon’s backing has been unwavering along with, revealed Marciano, that of the manager’s staff and his team-mates throughout the past few weeks. He said: “I have been through a tough time. I fully appreciate what the team did for me and my wife.
“We are happy now, the most important thing in life. I’m back and focused to help the team achieve our goals.
“Ross did brilliantly in the games he played. I knew I had to fight to win my place back, it’s something you have to face at times in your career and I’m happy to have the gloves back, happy to show I deserve it – but I have to do it every game.”
Marciano played a crucial role in securing the 3-0 win at Rugby Park, pulling off a string of saves – one from Killie striker Kris Boyd described by Lennon as “world-class” – at crucial times as Hibs battled to hang on to the lead John McGinn had given them before Simon Murray and Martin Boyle secured victory.
But, he admitted, he also enjoyed a bit of luck, Boyd twice hitting the woodwork as did his team-mate Rory McKenzie, incidents Marciano called “karma”, adding: “This season we have lost some unlucky goals but sometimes the luck is with you as it was in this game.”
More importantly, insisted the 28-year-old, was the togetherness displayed by Lennon’s players. He said: “We’re in great form just now and we just want to keep it going.
“It’s a great feeling to come back and start this run with clean sheets, but you could see at Kilmarnock that even in tough periods of the game how the boys get together and fight. They want to win every ball because this is our main goal. We know when we don’t concede we will probably score and win.”
Three successive wins – Lennon claiming his players are finally getting the results they deserve – naturally begs the question of how high Hibs feel they can go. Marciano replied: “It’s still early days but there is great commitment from the boys and there is improvement in our squad in every game.
“We know we can challenge and you can see that in the big games, we can challenge the big teams. But we’re trying not to look beyond the next game and that’s Dundee on Saturday.
“I always look up, I try to look up. In your career you want to go as high as possible. If not, what’s the reason for going into training every day. But the way we do it now, growing and concentrating on every game is working. We must keep doing exactly what we are doing right now and not take anything for granted.”