Paul Hanlon happy to roll back the years to help Hibs score
Pushing deep into the opposition penalty area to create a goalscoring opportunity may not appear to be Hibs defender Paul Hanlon's comfort zone.
But it was once his trademark, Hanlon enjoying life as an attacking midfielder during his days with Hutchie Vale Boys Club, so much so that in his final season he ended up with “30 odd goals”.
So it was merely a case of rolling back the years as Hanlon deserted his defensive duties to supply the cross which brought his team a late equaliser against Aberdeen, so preserving an unbeaten run at Easter Road which stretches all the way back to mid-December.
“We needed a goal,” said Hanlon, “So the gaffer pushed me to left wing-back to get forward. Daryl Horgan managed to nick the ball to me and you know if you get a cross into the right areas then Jamie Maclaren loves to be in those positions.
“I was an attacking midfielder at Hutchie Vale, I liked to get into the box and try to create and score goals. We went through my last season there unbeaten and I ended up with 30-odd goals.”
Boasting that sort of record, it came as something of a shock when Hanlon learned that his coaches at Hibs saw him more as a central defender after just two games.
He recalled: “It was a bit of a shock. I’d have just been starting at Under-15s and our youth coach Alistair Stevenson said he thought I could be a decent centre half. I was at my dad to get me back to Hutchie Vale. But Alistair had seen something and, to be honest, who knows, if I’d remained in midfield I might never have made the breakthrough.”
Hanlon did so at the age of just 17 and now, with more than 350 games in the green and white under his belt, he has seen enough of life at Easter Road to be assured that during the summer upheaval of losing star midfielders Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn, new fans’ favourites would soon emerge.
As Capital rivals Hearts embarked on a signing frenzy, the arrival of newcomers on the other side of the city was rather more measured, that early anxiety soothed as Flo Kamberi and then Maclaren returned, Neil Lennon’s squad further strengthened by Stevie Mallan, Daryl Horgan, Emerson Hyndman and Thomas Agyepong while veteran Australian internationalist Mark Milligan awaits a work permit to allow him to begin his two-year contract in Edinburgh.
Hanlon said: “I think the fans’ nerves have been soothed a bit. They’ve seen the gaffer bring good players, international players in. It might take us a little bit of time to gel and adjust but I am excited by those who have arrived.
“It’s happened many times, not just at this club. I remember as a fan being gutted when Russell Latapy left, that happens when you lose your best players.
“But I think John, especially, was ready to move on, you couldn’t hold him back any longer and you can see what he’s already done since moving has proved it was the right time for him to go.”
With their Europa League adventure at an end, all focus is now on the domestic scene with Hibs unbeaten in their opening three Premiership matches and into the quarter-finals of the BetFred Cup where they will, once again, face Aberdeen.
Hanlon agreed it has been a promising start but admitted it could have been better, echoing Lennon’s assertion that those draws against St Johnstone and the Dons should have been turned into wins.
He said: “The opening day win over Motherwell was a great result but we feel we should have taken all three points from the other two. At the weekend I never felt we were under any sustained pressure from Aberdeen, everything was under control but then we lost a sloppy goal right on half-time.
“However, we again showed our character as we have – in Europe as well – on a number of occasions although I think we’d prefer not to have to do so as often.”
Goals have rarely been in short supply as far as Hibs are concerned in the past few months, the result, insisted Hanlon, of Lennon’s determination to get at the opposition, pointing out that as Maclaren scored against Aberdeen his fellow central defender Ryan Porteous was also deep inside their penalty area.
He said: “I’m not quite sure what Ryan was doing up there as well, we must have only had Efe Ambrose looking after things at the back.
“But that’s what the manager wants us to do, to be on the front foot and taking the game to the opposition, for defenders to get the ball back and get us going forward again.
“I don’t think we’re the sort of side that can just sit back in numbers and defend for the whole game when you look at the players we have in our squad, it’s all geared to being on the attack.
“There are times when we are perhaps a bit more open and stretched but it’s entertaining for the fans and over the course of the season I am sure it will work in our favour.
“It paid off against Aberdeen, we had them pinned back defending in numbers for long spells in the second half and sometimes it just takes that one wee moment as we enjoyed to break the line and get in behind them.”
His assist apart, Hanlon was also involved in one of the game’s big talking points, his challenge on Dons youngster Lewis Ferguson not bringing the penalty Reds boss Derek McInnes insisted shouldn’t have been missed by referee Andrew Dallas.
“I got my big toe on something,” explained Hanlon, “and the ball goes in the direction I was trying to knock it. I’ve only seen it again on the footage we get sent after matches and haven’t had the benefit of replays or close-ups.
“You could argue we should have had a penalty early on for a challenge on Martin Boyle but for me sometimes they go for you, sometimes against you and there’s been times when, as a defender, you know you’ve taken the ball cleanly but the foul is given against you.
“So if I enjoyed a slice of luck this time, I’ll take it.”