“Sometimes you need your goalkeeper.” Those were the words of Hibernian manager Neil Lennon after his side struggled to a 2-2 draw with Dunfermline in front of the BBC Alba cameras. A match which they surely would have lost, and perhaps lost heavily, were it not for the heroics of their aforementioned stopper, Ofir Marciano.
The Israeli was called into action on numerous occasions to keep intact Hibs’ seven-point lead at the top of the table, including a magnificent double to deny Michael Moffat and Nicky Clark with the scores tied at 2-2.
Marciano, when fit, typically plays the role of an interested spectator as the attacking players work tirelessly hard down the other end to break through the resistance of stubborn opponents.
Initially, it looked like Saturday was going to be another easy day at the office for the international goalkeeper. Hibs, buoyed by their derby victory over Hearts in midweek, raced into a 2-0 lead. Jason Cummings crossed for Martin Boyle to open the scoring early on and the striker doubled the advantage himself from the penalty spot after Boyle had been taken down by Dunfermline’s Jason Talbot.
The direction of the match was then altered completely when Paul McMullan took advantage of some slack play by David Gray to score, and the visitors were level 27 seconds into the second half when Kallum Higginbotham drilled a stunning volley past a helpless Marciano.
The away side were much the better of the two opponents in the time between their first goal and the final ten minutes. In addition to his denial of Moffat and Clark, Marciano pulled off a number of other crucial saves, including an equally miraculous stop from a Clark header. The striker powered down towards goal from five yards out, only to see Marciano deflect it wide with his foot.
“This is my job so I’m more than happy to help my team when they need me,” said a humble Marciano. “That’s why I came here.
“I think we needed to take more from this game, especially with the situation in the league. We need to increase the gap. But we could also have lost, so we try to stay positive.”
“In most of the games, you need to stay focused. You don’t have so much to do because you are the winning team and we have a good defence. But I’m happy that sometimes I have a job and I can show my skills. If you ask me, I’d prefer to win this game and not save anything.”
On the double save from Moffat and Clark, he added: “I don’t know how it stayed out, really. Sometimes you need luck and I have it just now.”
Having slaughtered his players in public following last week’s 1-1 draw with Raith Rovers, Lennon was surprisingly reserved when it came to criticising the squad on this occasion.
Yes, the first goal, which proved so crucial in bringing Dunfermline back into the game when the visitors were at their most vulnerable, should have been defended better, but with this match coming only three days after the derby win over Hearts, Lennon was in an understanding mood. The players were tired, Dunfermline had been given two weeks to prepare and, by the end, the Easter Road side were “running on fumes”.
Marciano, though, insists the players cannot accept such excuses if they are to avoid any late-season drama in their quest for the title.
“It’s not an excuse because if you want to reach a high level and play in the Premiership and also dominate in the cup we need to handle that. We need to manage that,” added Marciano.
“It’s not easy to go from a derby against Hearts, with 20,000 people and all the atmosphere, to playing against Dunfermline, but this is how big teams manage themselves. As professionals, we have to do better.”