Defence takes the acclaim as Ofir Marciano saves the day for Hibs
It will not go into the record books as one of their very best starts to a league campaign but it remains one that Hibernian boss Jack Ross is happy with.
A fourth win on the bounce would have given them their best opening run in almost half a century but, unable to get the better of a vastly-improved Motherwell, they had to settle for a goalless stalemate and ten points from 12.
It still leaves them level on points with Premiership leaders Rangers. But it was a result that relied on the resilience and resolve of the defence, the intervention of the match officials to rule out a Jordan White goal, and a superb piece of goalkeeping by Ofir Marciano that vindicates the club’s push to extend his current contract beyond the end of this season.
The save came eight minutes into the action as Callum Lang evaded the attention of Paul McGinn, cut inside and tried to bend his effort into the net. But the Israeli international demonstrated his agility and shot-stopping credentials by diving full length to prevent the shot sneaking inside the far post.
While there were few in the ground to applaud the save, it was one he could be proud of.
“Their boy cut inside and Paul did a good job to narrow the angle, but I was a bit obstructed. So I was very happy with the save,” said Marciano.
It was to prove a key moment as Motherwell limited Hibs’ chances of breaking the deadlock, yet could not capitalise.
They cranked up the pressure, though, and clever movement and neat link-up play, as well as a desire to pick up every second ball gave them the advantage.
New signing Stephen O’Donnell came close in the 21st minute when a ball was lofted in to him in the box and he was able to bring it down with his right and then have a dig with his left but Paul Hanlon got close enough to deflect the effort wide.
Admittedly, Stephen Robinson’s men had the ball in the net in the 36th minute but White was left cursing his team-mate Sherwin Seedorf, who was caught offside. It meant the striker’s drilled effort was chalked off.
On a day when Hibs’ defence was in solid form and their guests proved more than capable of stifling anything they could serve up in an attacking sense, there was not to be another breach. That was a source of frustration to the visitors who poked and probed in the hope of finding a chink in the home rearguard. Ultimately, there was none to be found.
“Definitely there is more confidence now in the way we defend,” said Marciano, who was thrilled with the clean sheet. “It’s not just the defenders, the whole team from the high pressure that the strikers put on teams, the centre midfielders, the wingers, everyone is doing a really good job. When you get clean sheets, the confidence grows, but we need to keep working hard.”
The Easter Road side have yet to lose a goal in open play this term, providing the team with a sound foundation but the longer they go without defeat and manage to maintain such a lofty league position, the more difficult life will become, according to Marciano, who knows they will already be viewed as a notable scalp for opponents to claim.
“We need to realise that it could be a struggle this season especially if we keep winning games because teams will come here and try to make it hard for us, although to be fair, Motherwell played quite well on and off the ball.”
The Fir Park side, still looking for their first win of the season, certainly displayed no sense of inferiority, restricting Hibs’ attacking ventures while also testing them at the back.
Daryl Horgan had a chance, Kevin Nisbet, too. Martin Boyle should have done better when through and Christian Doidge was profligate with a header but they were hardly peppering Trevor Carson’s goal.
“It could be a struggle to find a solution,” said Marciano of teams who arrive in Leith well-versed in Hibs attacking options and set up to foil them. “But I was happy with the way we defended and we showed character. I always try to take the positives from the game. I am happy with the clean sheet and will take that.”
A key figure in Hibs’ near-impenetrable start to the season, with his contract set to expire at the end of the current term, the club are keen to tie Marciano up on a new deal. Talks are ongoing but the 30-year-old says his focus remains firmly on earning any agreement.
“At the moment I am only focusing on playing for Hibs. They are a massive club who I really admire. I’m enjoying it here and I want to upgrade my game and be the best I can for this club. I try not to get distracted by that. I just try to work hard every day and be as good as I can.
“Of course, you always think about how to improve your life, but I have to be good out there on the pitch to earn the right to have a good contract.”
In recent weeks it is the frontline that has earned the plaudits for Hibs’ positive start but on Saturday it was the defence who snuffed out an on-the-ball Motherwell side , who bounced back from the midweek tongue lashing from their manager. And it was the defence who ensured that, even if it does not constitute the best start to a season in 46 years, it is one that they can definitely build on with confidence.
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