Why Hibs are in safe hands with Matt Macey as first-choice goalkeeper
It has been a while since Hibs have had a goalkeeper as reliable and long-serving as Ofir Marciano.
The Israeli No.1 was very often the difference between three points and one point, or a draw and defeat and in his five seasons at Easter Road he saw off competition from a string of challengers including Adam Bogdan, Cammy Bell, and Chris Maxwell.
With the 31-year-old into the last six months of his contract and showing little sign of agreeing terms on a new deal, and back-up ‘keeper Dillon Barnes recalled by parent club QPR, Hibs moved quickly to bring back Kevin Dabrowski from his loan spell at Dumbarton as well as bringing in Matt Macey on a deal until the end of the season from Arsenal.
At the time, it looked like a shrewd move aimed at planning for the future in the event of Marciano leaving. If Macey impressed and was happy to stay, Jack Ross would have a ready-made first-choice ‘keeper going into a likely European campaign and in Dabrowski, an able back-up following his impressive stint at The Rock, provided the pair agreed new contracts.
When the former Gunners goalie got the nod for the Scottish Cup games, it looked as though the coaching staff were indeed giving Macey a chance to show his abilities so it was little surprise when he agreed a two-year deal at the club, with Dabrowski following suit.
It remains to be seen if it will be a straight one-two arrangement between Macey and Dabrowski, with the Polish shot-stopper perhaps getting a chance to impress in cup matches in the same way Macey did, or whether the pair will fight it out for the No.1 spot.
Cup final pass marks
Despite a clean sheet in the semi-final against Dundee United – Macey’s fourth in seven games – there were still some sections of the support keen to see Marciano retake the gloves for the Scottish Cup final against St Johnstone. As expected, Ross kept faith in Macey and he was arguably the only member of the Hibs team who can be happy with his overall performance.
He was faultless for Shaun Rooney’s goal and when he saved Glenn Middleton’s penalty and blocked Chris Kane’s follow-up effort it should have sparked the Captal club into action. That it didn’t was both surprising and disappointing.
Macey cut a forlorn figure at full-time, sitting cross-legged on the pitch with his head bowed. Barely 12 months after tasting cup final success with Arsenal, albeit as the back-up goalkeeper, he had a glorious chance to add a Scottish winners medal to his collection and although he did his part, it wasn't to be.
Speaking in the aftermath he said: "It has been a brilliant season. It will take some time to understand and appreciate from everyone.
"Everyone in the dressing room is ambitious and knows their level. It's very clear that they are not prepared to settle for what may have happened in the past.
“The manager, the staff and players have been hugely ambitious in what we want to do. We know how good we can be so there will no doubt be a reaction next season.”
Macey was one of just two players to address the media post-match along with Ryan Porteous, but the ‘keeper is clearly keen to build on what has been a decent campaign for the Easter Road side.
Macey has shown enough in his fleeting appearances for Hibs to reassure concerned supporters that he is more than capable of filling the sizeable gloves left by Marciano’s departure. Clean sheets in 50 per cent of his matches, no mistakes, and more than a few key save across his eight matches.
He is well-liked by the players and is trusted by the coaching staff. His handling is fine, he commands his box well, he is a good shot-stopper and an excellent communicator.
Prior to taking to the field for the 1-1 draw with Celtic in January on his Hibs debut, his last senior game had come in 2019. In six-plus years at Arsenal he played just twice for the first team and spent most of his time out on loan at Accrington Stanley, Luton Town, and Plymouth Argyle.
It is understandable that the 26-year-old might want to put down roots somewhere and concentrate on playing football, given he has fewer than 60 senior games under his belt.
The importance of having a good spine to the team can't be underestimated, and it starts with the man at the back.
Crucially, Macey has European experience and is enjoying his time in the Capital. Unless the club goes down a different route – e.g. sending Dabrowski out on another loan and bringing in a third ‘keeper – the young Pole will be a constant challenger for the Bath-born goalie, keeping him on his toes.
Marciano’s contribution to the club was huge but in Macey, Hibs have a ready-made successor capable of producing his own match-winning moments.
The Israeli will be a hard act to follow but based on his admittedly limited appearances in a Hibs shirt to date, Macey is up for the challenge.
So too Dabrowski, who also has designs on the first-team spot.
There may well be comings and goings at Easter Road this summer as the club gears up for another European jaunt and the 2021/22 season but the club would appear to be in safe hands between the sticks.