Danny Swanson has admitted he feels as if a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders after claiming his first goal for his boyhood heroes Hibs – a strike that he also dedicated to his late friend Shaun Woodburn.
Swanson has struggled to make the impact he’d wished since arriving at Easter Road during the summer having signed a pre-contract agreement while a St Johnstone player. And while he agrees claims he’s perhaps being trying too hard to impress carry some credence, Swanson believes he can now relax and fully enjoy his time with the Capital club.
Swanson made his first start in four matches as Neil Lennon’s players finally shrugged off Livingston to reach the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup, the fifth time they’ve booked themselves a Hampden place in the last 18 months.
And while he scored within 18 minutes, it was to equalise, Alan Lithgow having stunned the home fans by nodding Livingston in front, the West Lothian outfit then getting themselves in front again through Raffaele De Vita before Martin Boyle and Anthony Stokes, with a late penalty clinched victory.
However, while it may look on the face of it that Lennon’s players, who’d been subjected to withering criticism from their manager after contriving to throw away a two goal lead against Motherwell only a few days earlier, had struggled to shake off the Championship club, Swanson insisted he was convinced he and his team-mates would win despite twice trailing.
He said: “I was confident all the way through, just a bit annoyed. We’d been working on set pieces so to lose the first goal from a cross you are thinking ‘not again.’
“We get a goal back, they score again but that’s just Hibs, isn’t it? That’s the way we do it, you just get used to it.”
Having equalised, guiding Boyle’s cut-back beyond Livingston goalkeeper Neil Alexander from the edge of the box, Swanson had a hand in the winner, playing the pass for defender Paul Hanlon which drew an injudicious challenge from on-loan Hearts player Nikolay Todorov which produced the winning spot-kick.
He said: “I felt pretty confidnet we’d get a chance and win it before the 90 – but obviously you have extra-time at the back of your mind although I wouldn’t have made it because I was cramping up.”
Of his own goal, Swanson was naturally delighted, dedicating it to his good friend Woodburn, the former Bonnyrigg Rose player who died following a disturbance in Great Junction Street on New Year’s Day.
Shaun’s father, Kevin, was in the crowd as were Swanson’s entire family which, he insisted, made his first Hibs goal that little bit more special.
He said: “I always dedicate my goals to Shaun, but that was an extra special one. It felt as good as I’d envisaged as a wee boy although I always envisaged it being at the other end, in front of the Famous Five Stand. It was just good to have a lot of friends there, the game wasn’t on their season tickets so I had a lot of request for complimentary tickets.
“Scoring felt brilliant, but it was more relief than anything. I think that’s going to help me massively. A lot of people have said I’ve been trying too hard and you could probably say that.
“It sounds a bit stupid saying you are trying too hard, but maybe. I felt a bit of weight off my shoulders, now I can relax a bit and hopefully it will help me a bit now.
“To be honest, I have felt relaxed, but it does play on your mind a bit. After every game you are thinking, ‘I still haven’t scored’, but I still try to play my normal game. I’ve had a few texts about it not from friends, just friends. My family, though, know better. My missus is good, she always has the right words.”
Swanson agreed Lennon’s players needed a performance after the events of the weekend, revealing he’d already been warned what to expect from boss Lennon by team-mate Darren McGregor, a close neighbour during their school days.
He said: “It was bad, like. But it was needed. You can just see the passion he oozes. He’s a winner, he takes his job very seriously. It’s not just for show, he means it.”
Lennon subjected his players to a video nasty to highlight their shortcomings and although he didn’t make it onto the pitch against Motherwell, Swanson admitted that even so he half-expected his boss to pick fault with him.
And although he described the experience as “scary”, Swanson was quick to jump to Lennon’s defence, saying: “If we have not done our jobs you have to expect criticism and accept it. But when we are doing well, he is brilliant.
“That’s the way it works. If the boys need shouted at, he’ll do it, he’s the first to praise us so it works both ways.
“I haven’t played under anyone like him, but he helped me against Livingston. He spoke to me before the game, he was very positive in his words. He helped me a lot, he really did.
“He took me aside, said relax and enjoy it. I did and thankfully I repaid him.”