Jason Cummings’ scintillating start to the season – seven goals in Hibs’ first five Championship matches – has somewhat overshadowed the fact that the defence has conceded just two, the stinginess playing just as big a part in the Capital club’s drive to the top of the table.
When the Irn-Bru Cup triumph over Turriff United is taken into consideration, the back four have now racked up four consecutive clean sheets and go into tomorrow’s match knowing that if they can extend that to five against Ayr United tomorrow then there’s every chance Neil Lennon’s side will have clocked up a new club record.
The victory over Dumbarton saw them become the first Hibs side in 70 years to win their opening five league games, but never in the club’s history have they managed to make it six.
If they do so, there’s few who would bet against the red-hot Cummings, who this week picked up the Ladbrokes Championship player of the month award for August as boss Neil Lennon took the manager’s accolade, having a big say in proceedings and, again, hogging the limelight.
But rather than cast an envious glance at his team-mate, defender Paul Hanlon today insisted those charged with keeping the opposition out will simply take their own quiet satisfaction from a job well done.
He said: “More often than not it’s the strikers who get all the praise and with all those goals Jason has scored he’s naturally going to get the rewards. As defenders we just sit back and do our job. Just as strikers thrive on scoring, we look on clean sheets as being just as important as goals.
“The manager says the same. If we keep getting clean sheets then we are going to win more games than we lose.”
Although aware that one more win will create a new club record, Hanlon insisted it hasn’t been a major topic of conversation as Lennon’s players have prepared for the visit of newly-promoted Ayr, who will arrive in Edinburgh with their confidence boosted having got their first Championship win against Morton last weekend.
The 26-year-old said: “To be honest, we’ve really thought more about just getting another three points. We have started well – we’ve not always been brilliant but we’ve got the three points at the end of the game and that’s all that counts. We know that if we don’t play at our best we are going to win.”
Having enjoyed a 4-0 demolition of Morton, Hibs ground out a narrow 1-0 win against Dumbarton, where they lost twice last season, to maintain their 100 per cent record but, Hanlon insisted, Lennon’s defence took just as much satisfaction from that game as they had from their previous league outing. He said: “We know Dumbarton is a difficult place to go, We found that out last year. We could have made it more comfortable for ourselves, but we defended well and limited them to few chances. When you are 4-0 up the pressure is off, but we had to remain focused last week as Dumbarton put us under pressure looking for an equaliser.
“We did our job just as Jason had at the other end, he got his goal, we got another clean sheet and together we got the team another three points.”
Although it is early in the season, Hanlon agreed this weekend could prove significant, with the four teams immediately below Hibs in the table – Queen of the South, Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dundee United – all meeting. Mindful of the fact he and his team-mates will face three of those sides in the coming weeks, Hanlon said: “Hopefully we can take our three points and then we’ll see what’s happened elsewhere, see what the other scores were and who has dropped points.
“Having had to chase others in the last couple of seasons, we want to be the ones being chased this time round. Hopefully we can open up a bit of a gap over some of them and with Queen of the South the following weekend there would be another opportunity to stretch it again. But we can’t do that unless we win tomorrow so that makes the visit of Ayr the biggest game in our eyes.
“The manager doesn’t look any further forward than the next game, that’s the way he is and that’s the way you have to think. As soon as Dumbarton was over there was no cause for celebration, it was a case of immediately focusing on Ayr and getting ready to go again.”
However, having travelled to Turriff and Dumbarton in the past couple of weeks and endured the somewhat surreal environments of The Haughs and the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium, Hanlon admitted Lennon’s players are looking forward to returning to Easter Road, where they have enjoyed bumper gates of 16,477 against Dunfermline and then 14,508 for the visit of Morton.
The former Scotland Under-21 skipper said: “The turn-outs at Easter Road have been great. We’ve kept up our part of the bargain by winning games and hopefully we’ll get another big crowd tomorrow.
“If we are doing our job on the pitch by winning we know the crowd is there for us. That’s great for the club with more money coming in and it’s great for us as players because the support we get really helps.
“Everything is very positive at the moment but we have to be focused and not let it slip because in football – as we know only too well from last season – things can turn very quickly. We have all learned from that and we know we cannot rest on what we have done so far, not as if the manager is going to let us. Even although we have won five in a row, that doesn’t automatically mean we are going to beat Ayr, so we’ll keep working hard at doing what we have been doing and, as we’ve shown so far this season, we have great options all over the pitch – you only need to look who is sitting on the bench for any particular game.”
If Lennon has proved a hard task master on the training ground, he’s just as tough a disciplinarian in ensuring his players concentrate entirely on preparing for games, revealing he’s banned players from bringing their mobile phones into East Mains on pain of being fined a week’s wages.
But, as Hanlon revealed, any grumbles have long since come to an end. He said: “He wants us to be talking to each other, not just sitting on our phones. It was a bit of a shock, there’s a few who like their phones and found it tough.
“But it’s easy – don’t bring you phone into the building or you’re fined. We realised right away that’s something he is big on and we abide by it.”