When Mark Oxley first rocked up at Hibs, he had less than 50 first-team appearances under his belt, with the majority of those made during a season on loan at Oldham Athletic.
The 25-year-old has now taken his tally beyond the 100-mark and kept 23 clean sheets in 57 outings for the Easter Road club.
The goalkeeper is reluctant to take all the credit for a highly-impressive 40 per cent shut-out rate, but he admits his game has improved significantly since Alan Stubbs first brought him to Edinburgh on loan from Hull City at the start of last season.
“I came here wanting to play games and the manager’s given me that chance,” Oxley told the Evening News.
“I’ve only missed one game since I’ve been here and I’ve got more experience now that I’ve been playing regularly at Hibs. This is my first time playing at this level, and I think I’ve picked up quickly what it’s all about. I got good experience from playing regularly last season and I feel I’m in a better position this season.
“I think I’m definitely a better keeper now than when I first came to Hibs. Until I came here, I was pretty inexperienced. I’d only really played one full season at Oldham and the rest of the time I had just picked up a few games here and there on emergency loans. I’d only played about forty first-team games when I arrived here, but now I’ve played more than 100, so I feel a lot more experienced. That’s what you need as a goalkeeper.”
Oxley is fast establishing himself as one of Scottish football’s clean-sheet kings. He has kept eight in 12 competitive games this season and has conceded only one goal – against St Mirren – in his last seven matches.
“I’ve picked up a few clean sheets but it’s down to the whole team working hard,” he said. “Compared to last year, we’re so much harder to beat now. As a goalkeeper, you can never get bored of keeping clean sheets, though, so hopefully they continue.
“I’ve got a decent record, but I don’t make a point of counting my clean sheets. You have a target in your head that you want to get to and at the end of the season, you’ll look and see how many you kept but you don’t get too wrapped up in it.
“Once you get on a run of clean sheets like I’m on, though, it is something you’re aware of and you want to keep making them. Sometimes they come easier when you’re on a run like this. When people are talking about how many clean sheets you’re keeping, the last thing you want to do is concede a goal, so it probably gives you an extra edge because you’re so determined not to let one in. You can’t get too disheartened by losing a goal, but it was a bit frustrating when we lost that goal against St Mirren a few weeks ago.”
Oxley knows much of his clean-sheet record is down to the way his team are able to dominate long periods of matches, therefore restricting opportunities for the opposition to threaten. A perfect case in point came in Hibs’ last outing, a comprehensive 3-0 win at Queen of the South, when the Yorkshireman’s only real work of note was to tip over a first-half Derek Lyle header.
“With us being one of the bigger teams in the league, it’s a matter of me keeping my concentration because we dominate a lot of games so I might only have one or two saves to make,” he acknowledged.
“You might have a shot in the first minute or the 90th minute but you’ve got to be ready for it. When I’ve been at teams before, they’ve not been as dominant as Hibs are so I found myself having to make more saves. It’s always great to make saves but, if I’m not making many saves, it shows the team is doing something right.
“As you get older, it becomes easier to stay zoned into games when you’re not involved as much. When you’re younger, you maybe don’t think about it so much but it’s really important to stay focused. I like to keep organising the team and talking to the lads. Even if it’s nonsense I’m shouting, it keeps your mind on the game and stops you drifting off elsewhere.”
Oxley feels he has benefitted from the meticulous goalkeeping coach of Alan Combe as well as stern competition from an established Scottish top-flight goalkeeper in his understudy, Toni Reguero.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re keeping clean sheets every week – there are always things you can do to improve,” he said. “Toni’s a really experienced goalkeeper and he’s always pushing me hard. I’ve been working hard with Alan Combe to stay on top of my game. I didn’t know Alan before I came here but he’s highly thought of in Scotland. He’s only young as a goalkeeping coach  but he’s great to work with and he’s one of the main reasons I came back to Hibs [permanently in the summer].
“We have a great relationship and I find it a pleasure coming into work every day. His sessions are hard but he makes them fun and related to the game coming up. It’s not just the same stuff every day. This week, for example, he’ll look at what Dumbarton are likely to throw at us and he’ll work on stuff that could help me in that particular game. We’ve been working all week to try and get another clean sheet against them.”