Former Hibs goalkeeper Jim McArthur believes the Easter Road club are in safe hands with Ben Williams between the sticks.
The 30-year-old arrived as a virtual unknown as part of boss Pat Fenlon’s radical summer revamp of the failing squad he’d inherited well aware of the poisoned chalice being the Hibs No. 1 had become, but insisting he’d be inspired rather than daunted at the prospect of being compared to legendary goalkeepers Andy Goram and Jim Leighton.
As a former Manchester United trainee Williams knew full well the esteem in which both Goram and Leighton were held, the pair having also starred for the Red Devils, and knowing he’d have to win over a Hibs support which had become inured to the mistakes – many in high-profile matches – of those who’d donned the gloves since.
While he’s made one or two errors himself, Williams has earned the approval of the green and white army, with many claiming he’s the best goalie they’ve had since Swedish star Daniel Andersson – the hero of the 2004 League Cup semi-final penalty shootout win over Rangers – spent a season in Edinburgh under manager Bobby Williamson.
Today McArthur, a member of “Turnbull’s Tornadoes” who made some 300 appearances in goal for Hibs, insisted Williams was the sort of “steady Eddie,” all clubs were seeking as their last line of defence. He said: “I think he has done well. He’s made a couple of mistakes, every goalkeeper does, but he’s proved himself. He’s made some great saves, enjoyed some shut-outs and has shown himself to be a good, steady goalkeeper.
“I know a lot of fans would have had some reservations when Pat Fenlon signed him from Colchester United because, I’d imagine, most of them had never heard of him. but Colchester are playing at a decent level in the English League One and Ben will have had a very good grounding having started his career at a club like Manchester United.”
Fenlon snapped Williams up on a two-year deal having released Graham Stack and with contract talks with Mark Brown stalling. The manager revealed he’d been on Williams’ trail long before succeeding Colin Calderwood at Hibs, making the journey from Dublin to watch him in action and then, once he’d taken the reins at Easter Road, dispatching goalkeeping coach Scott Thomson to monitor him last season. Williams spurned the advances of a number of Championship clubs to become part of Fenlon’s revolution – one which saw no less than nine new faces arrive, along with the return of James McPake and Leigh Griffiths – and McArthur believes the manager’s homework has paid off.
He said: “Pat obviously had his eye on Williams for some time, he’s cast his net wide and has brought in a goalkeeper he can rely on. To me he appears to be a steady character both on and off the pitch and that’s what you need in a goalkeeper, someone who keeps his head down, works hard and is level-headed.
“As I’ve said, Williams has a good background, but I’m sure he’ll be the first to admit he’s not the finished article and he’ll be working hard with Scott Thomson, who will look after him and keep him on his toes.”
Having arrived at Easter Road at a time of flux as Fenlon began to put his own mark on the team, Williams had to forge a new partnership with those in front of him and was just beginning to do so when injuries to McPake and Tim Clancy forced Fenlon into a rethink at the back.
Despite having to acquaint himself once again with a new-look backline, McArthur feels Williams’ class has shone through, even if he found himself picking the ball out of the net three times against Inverness at the weekend. McArthur said: “When you look at a scoreline like that [3-0], the first assumption is the goalkeeper’s had a bad day.
“However, after watching the highlights of the game, it was clear Williams was blameless at each of the goals. You get that from time to time as a goalkeeper, you can end up losing a few goals in a game and yet you know you’ve done nothing wrong. Williams has made a few mistakes and he’d be the first to hold his hand up to them, but it’s how you bounce back and, in that regard, he has done just fine.
“The great goalkeepers are the ones who make fewest mistakes. Hibs have always had pretty good goalkeepers and I don’t know where the ‘yips’ came from but it led to every mistake made being highlighted and every goalkeeper being put under the microscope every time they lost a goal, and that can destroy you.”
McArthur pointed to the worth of saves such as those Williams has made from the penalty spot against St Mirren and St Johnstone, which have arguably earned Fenlon’s side at least four points already.
Hibs were leading 1-0 in Paisley when Williams pushed away Paul McGowan’s effort before going on to win 2-1 while only a couple of weeks ago, the game at McDiarmid Park was goal-less when he made a stunning double stop, saving Nigel Hasselbaink’s spot-kick and then beating away Liam Craig’s effort from the rebound, before Paul Cairney clinched a late winner. McArthur, pictured below, said: “People say it’s the strikers’ goals which win you games but saves like those have undoubtedly earned Hibs a few points and have helped keep them at the top end of the table.
“To me those saves have been as crucial as goals. Williams has a stature and a presence around his area. He’s always talking to his defenders, keeping them on their toes and aware of what’s going on about them. Defenders like that, it gives them a confidence.”