Who will win battle between Ofir Marciano and Chris Maxwell for Hibs gloves?
One of the most compelling narratives at Hibs in the weeks and months ahead promises to revolve around the battle for the goalkeeping position.
As things stand, this duel looks like being contested by Ofir Marciano, the Easter Road No.1 for most of the past three years, and Chris Maxwell, the 28-year-old who has arrived on loan from Preston North End in a bid to get regular football once more following a frustrating time last term.
On the face of it, most would expect Marciano to remain in command of the gloves for the new campaign after his exceptional burst of form under Paul Heckingbottom in the closing four months of last season. Prior to that, however, his status as first choice at Easter Road had looked in considerable jeopardy as he was given stiff competition from Adam Bogdan, who arrived on loan from Liverpool last summer when Marciano was injured and generally kept his place even when the Israeli regained his fitness. It was only when Bogdan got concussed at the end of January that Marciano was able to reassert himself as Hibs’ first-choice goalkeeper.
For all the credit he has in the bank with supporters by virtue of his largely impressive form over the past three years, Marciano now looks set for renewed competition from another loanee from England’s north west. Although Maxwell spent most of last season as a back-up goalkeeper, initially at parent club Preston and then at Charlton Athletic where he was on loan for the second half of the campaign, the Welshman is not accustomed to playing second fiddle.
This is a man who has already started well over 300 matches in his decade-long career so far. Maxwell was a regular starter for Preston in the English Championship for two consecutive seasons before losing his place when the highly-regarded Declan Rudd arrived at Deepdale from Norwich City last summer. While some in this position specialise in being back-up goalkeepers and are relatively comfortable going through their career filling in when required, Maxwell doesn’t fall into this category. If he was content to warm the bench, he could have remained at Preston. He has arrived in Edinburgh with the full intention of playing for Hibs and has clearly been given some indication from Heckingbottom that he is not wasting his time in making the move north.
Maxwell’s two best years in the English Championship – the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons – coincided with a period when Heckingbottom was working in the same division, with Barnsley and then Leeds United. The Hibs head coach has seen plenty of Maxwell and is impressed by his sweeper-keeper abilities, notably his distribution.
Marciano’s strength lies primarily in shot-stopping; he is not particularly renowned for sparking attacks from the back. Even prior to Maxwell’s arrival, there was a question mark over the 29-year-old Israeli’s position as Hibs No.1 after he intimated in an interview in his homeland at the end of last season that he wanted to move to “a bigger club” and hoped “to make that upgrade and jump forward.” Although nothing has so far come to fruition in that regard, Marciano’s comments, swiftly followed by the arrival of a Championship-calibre goalkeeper, have certainly opened the door to the possibility that there will be a new man between the sticks when Hibs’ Premiership campaign begins against St Mirren in a little over a fortnight.
Maxwell got the nod for last Saturday’s Betfred Cup opener against Stirling Albion, although the Welshman is slightly further on in his pre-season after Marciano was given extra time off following his international exploits with Israel at the end of last season. Marciano is more than likely to get his chance at some point in the remaining Betfred Cup matches as he aims to prove he is superior to his latest challenger for the gloves.