Michael Weir: Where I rank Ofir Marciano amongst Hibs’ goalkeeping greats
I was very fortunate in my career in that I played with four top goalkeepers – Alan Rough, Andy Goram, Jim Leighton and John Burridge – so the debate as to whether Ofir Marciano is the best Hibs have had for a number of years is an interesting one.
There’s no doubt Marciano had a great game against Celtic at the weekend. He pulled off a number of outstanding saves and is looking very comfortable in his position. It’s been a while since we’ve had a solid goalkeeper but as good as he has been, I don’t think I could say he’s quite at the level of the guys I mentioned.
He certainly has the potential to get there and he’s played an important role in helping the side make it nine league games without defeat having made important saves in a number of those matches – and at crucial times.
All the goalkeepers I played with had their own strong points, but Andy just edged it. He was a winner who demanded from everyone and he was one of those goalkeepers who could pull off a save just when you needed it and when he went to Rangers he improved out of sight.
However, I’ve always believed the key for any team looking to do well is that triangle of goalkeeper and the two centre backs in front of him and in Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon he’s got two vastly experienced defenders, as well as David Gray and Lewis Stevenson on either side of them.
There’s a huge amount of know-how in there, guys who have played hundreds of games, big matches, cup finals, won cups and played in Europe which is a massive help for any goalkeeper to have in front of him.
The need for players with such an understanding of their positions is obvious and it’s great news that the club has agreed new contracts with Gray – who I thought was different class against Celtic – and McGregor, deals which will keep that back four together for a while yet.
Goals against have virtually dried up over the course of the past few weeks and results have picked up because, I think, that back four is together again. Earlier in the season when we struggled a bit we were without Gray, McGregor and Hanlon for long spells but the difference is clear when you can go to Tynecastle and win there for the first time in six years. McGregor and Hanlon were outstanding that day and while the young lads have done well, there’s no substitute for experience.
That continuity of selection at the back is a massive thing, but it extends throughout the side with Paul Heckingbottom having used just 12 players in his starting line-up to date. He obviously trusts them to put in the performances which they have been doing.
It will be interesting to see what Heckingbottom does over the summer. He’s only brought one player in – Jonathan Spector – but he’ll have been looking at his squad, learning about his players and deciding who he wants and does not want as he puts his ideas for next season into place.
Heckingbottom has very much been learning on the job having come into a new football environment, having to get to know everything about how Hibs operate throughout the club, assessing the players he inherited and taking in all he can about the game up here, the opposition and how other managers work.
I think he has picked up very quickly and that was reflected, I felt, in Sunday’s match with Celtic, which was a big improvement on the last time we played against them. This time round we got right up against them and didn’t allow them to dictate the game, whereas the last time Heckingbottom had just come in and, I thought, it showed.
We’ve had quite a good record against Celtic and Rangers in the past couple of years and having your best players on the pitch definitely helps, but I do feel we need a bigger squad to get us through those testing months in future.
However, I thought we performed really well against Celtic. We looked a solid group of players which the manager has got well organised while he was tactically spot-on. You can’t ask for much more than going nine unbeaten, a record he’ll be hoping to extend to ten in Sunday’s derby with Hearts, a game Hibs will go into with confidence on the back of this run and, of course, following that win in Gorgie only a few weeks ago.