HIBS defender Paul Hanlon admits that he went into games last season terrified of putting a foot wrong. Fully aware of how costly the loss of even a single goal was likely to be to a team that averaged less than a goal a game throughout a campaign that ultimately ended in relegation, the onus was on the defence not to concede if they wanted to salvage anything from fixtures.
This term, manager Alan Stubbs has rectified that issue with a free-scoring strikeforce and additional contributions coming from elsewhere in the team.
It means that while the side amassed a miserable 31 goals in 38 league games last season, they have already rattled in 50 in the 25 games contested in the Championship this season.
“It does put more pressure on you if you are going out there and thinking ‘we are going to struggle to score today so I’d better play well’, but this year it’s completely different. We believe that our strikers will do their job and we just have to keep it tight at the back. In recent times that’s been the case.”
Hibs have gone 11 games without defeat – eight of those matches ending in victory. During that run they have enjoyed six clean sheets and in the remaining fixtures they have only once conceded more than a single goal. In that same run they have scored 29 times. It’s the kind of statistics that demonstrate a balance to the side and their displays that they could only have fantasised about last year.
“First and foremost I go into every game looking for a clean sheet because now we know we have players who can win us the game. Midfielders can score goals and the strikers have plenty goals between them so we know that if we can do our job at the back then it gives us a chance.”
We now go into games expecting to win and we are confident we can winPaul Hanlon
It is that mix of miserly defending and goals galore that mean the Leith side have not been beaten since early December and have suffered just two defeats in the last 23 games – and one of those was only after they had forced top-flight Dundee United all the way to a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup.
“We now go into games expecting to win and we are confident we can win but, really, we are looking no further forward than Alloa,” said Hanlon, who was not part of the side which lost away to Alloa in August but was in the starting line-ups for the subsequent cup and league wins over Barry Smith’s men. “It’s about getting three points there. We don’t go into games just thinking about keeping our unbeaten run going and settling for a draw, it’s all about winning games and that’s what we are looking to do this weekend.
“Last season was tough but we have all moved on now and we are full of confidence and playing good football and that is down to the manager and the staff who have come in. Obviously, at the start of the season it was stop-start and we didn’t start as well as we could have or should have but if you can get on a good run of form and pick up some wins, or at the very least, if you are not winning then pick up some draws, then you can keep the unbeaten run going and it helps the confidence grow throughout the squad.”
It would also apply real pressure to main rivals Rangers in the quest for a second-place finish and the advantage in the promotion play-offs.
“That’s what we want now but the ball is in Rangers’ court. They have the games in hand and we have to wait to see what happens in those games. They have to play Hearts, so we will see. But at the end of the day we have to keep winning as well. That’s what we aim to do.”
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