Cyriel Dessers spoke of a growing “connection” with James Tavernier after the Rangers skipper set him up for a double in the 3-1 cinch Premiership win over Ross County on Wednesday night.

The Gers striker latched on to a pass from Tavernier after only five minutes at Ibrox to lob Staggies goalkeeper George Wickens and get the home side off to a flying start.

Philippe Clement’s men required a three-goal win against second-bottom County to go above leaders Celtic but they passed up several chances to stretch their lead – Dessers hit the post with one attempt – before Simon Murray levelled against the run of play.

Dessers grabbed his second from a Tavernier cross just before the break but there were more opportunities passed up in the second-half before defender John Souttar headed in a third, again from a delivery from the Ibrox captain, in the second of seven added minutes

Despite 23 shots on target, Rangers could only finish the game with three goals and although they moved level with Celtic on 61 points and on goal difference, they have scored four goals fewer to keep them second.

Dessers, who has now scored 14 goals this season, noted the contribution of the Light Blues’ right-back, saying: “It’s the small things, sometimes we just need eye contact to know what we’re doing.

“That’s the connection you work on in training and games and obviously, those things were not there in August or September, these things are growing and these goals are a good example but also it happened in December.

“Tav gets the balls there  – it’s the job of the striker to finish them.”

Rangers were seven points behind Celtic last October when Clement took over from Michael Beale but the Belgian boss has rejuvenated the club.

Clement has already brought the Viaplay Cup back to Ibrox and the Light Blues are in the last-16 of the Europa League.

Rangers have won seven in a row since the winter break and as the chase of Celtic in the title race continues – and the Gers take on Hibernian in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup – Dessers looked forward with optimism as he noted the appreciation of the fans who are becoming increasingly excited about their side’s performances.

He said: “The team and me are in a good place.

“Everyone is scoring and contributing and you also feel the atmosphere, especially in the last games, it’s becoming a little extra compared to the games before.

“We as players feel that as well. That’s really positive, a huge thing which can be a boost for the next 13 games in the league and hopefully that can make the difference.

“Obviously it is a good feeling to get recognition from the fans, it means I have been doing things well.

“Especially for a striker, it’s all in the package of the team.

“It’s a nice feeling and I think there is a really positive vibe in the stadium and the training ground.

“We’re in a good place and want to keep this going. Not just in the locker room but with the fans and we are on a good way with that.”

Jack Butland believes Rangers are continuing to grow under Philippe Clement after showing their adaptability to beat St Mirren 1-0 in Paisley.

Swirling wind at the SMiSA stadium on Saturday lunchtime made good football all but impossible but ultimately striker Cyriel Dessers’ goal after 14 minutes – his 12th of the season – was enough to take the three points back to Ibrox.

Rangers remain five points behind cinch Premiership leaders Celtic with a game in hand and Butland told RangersTV: “We are developing as a team. There is obviously an end goal of what we want to achieve but we have to take it a game at a time and get the results that we want and we did that.

“We got the job done. We went there to get three points and a clean sheet and we have done that.

“As far as playing the football that we want, perhaps not, but it is what this league is about.

“You have different tests, it was a different game to Wednesday night (3-0 win at Hibernian) where we are able to play more football in better conditions but it is a sign of how the team is growing.

“It (conditions) don’t allow you to get it down and play the passes you want to play in tighter areas so you do have to adapt and play to the conditions but that is part and parcel of the game.

“We would be naive if we thought we could play exactly how we played the other night.

“Sometimes you have to be sensible and get the result and that’s what we’ve done.

“We’ve created openings without taking too many chances. It was a great finish from Cyriel and we got the result we wanted which is the business we are in.”

Stephen Robinson handed a first league appearance to January recruit Hyeok-kyu Kwon, the midfielder who is on loan from Celtic.

Attacker James Scott, initially signed on loan from Exeter before he joins Saints on a permanent two-year-deal in the summer, came on in the second half to make his debut while Jaden Brown, who arrived on loan from Lincoln last week, remained on the bench.

The Buddies boss told “I don’t expect to bring anyone else in.

“The deal was I could only bring players in if I got players out so ultimately maybe one more player will leave to balance the three players that came in.

“But I believe we will come out of this transfer window in a better position with a more balanced squad with competition in each position.”

Rangers midfielder Jose Cifuentes will miss the Viaplay Cup final after losing his appeal against the red card shown to the Ecuadorian during Saturday’s victory over Dundee.

The 24-year-old was initially booked by referee Kevin Clancy after catching Amadou Bakayoko late with his studs after the Dundee forward slid in to win the ball midway through the Gers’ 3-1 win. But he was then sent off following a VAR review.

A fast-track tribunal has upheld Clancy’s final decision and Cifuentes will start a two-match domestic ban when Rangers meet Aberdeen in Sunday’s Hampden clash.

The Ibrox club have also been missing the injured Tom Lawrence, Nico Raskin and Ryan Jack from their midfield in recent games.

What the papers say

Portuguese winger Jota is reportedly looking to reunite with his former Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham, the Sun reports. However Postecoglou is unsure if the club will make a move for the 24-year-old. Jota currently plays for Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Pro League.

The Daily Express reports Manchester United have joined the ever-growing race to sign Brentford striker Ivan Toney. Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are also interested in the 27-year-old.

The Manchester Evening News says Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi has ruled out a mid-season move to Manchester United as he does not want to dampen his chances of being selected in England’s Euro 2024 squad.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Lucas Paqueta: Manchester City could reportedly lose interest in the West Ham midfielder if there is no resolution found over the gambling investigation into the midfielder, Football Transfers says.

Estevao Willian: Teamtalk reports the 16-year-old Brazilian is being chased by a plethora of clubs including Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund.

The cinch Premiership returned after the international break and as usual there was plenty of drama and excitement.

Celtic surprisingly dropped two points at home to Motherwell on Saturday but Rangers failed to capitalise at Aberdeen, depending on a late James Tavernier penalty for a 1-1 draw, leaving the Hoops still eight points clear at the top albeit the Light Blues have a game in hand.

Hearts, St Mirren and Hibernian all won and Livingston remain bottom after another defeat.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five things that caught the eye.

Rangers blow chance to move closer to Celtic

Skipper James Tavernier scored a last-gasp penalty to give Rangers a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie but it was an afternoon when the chance to boost title hopes was passed up. The visitors fell behind after just 11 minutes to a Bojan Miovski strike and hit the woodwork twice after the break. But just when it looked like Philippe Clement would lose for the first time as Gers boss,  there was a VAR intervention. After checking his pitchside monitor, referee Nick Walsh decided Aberdeen’s Stefan Garternmann had pulled Connor Goldson’s jersey at a corner and pointed to the spot. Tavernier scored for a point which keeps Celtic eight points clear at the top having played a game more.

Hoops pay the penalty

David Turnbull slotted home an 86th-minute spot-kick to open the scoring against Motherwell but Luis Palma had earlier become the third Celtic player to miss a penalty this season, following Reo Hatate and Turnbull after Liam Kelly saved his effort. However, Motherwell quickly levelled through Jon Obika following Turnbull’s goal. Brendan Rodgers admitted he had identified issues with Celtic’s penalties after they missed three last season and the issues from 12 yards could prove costly.

Lawrence Shankland’s purple patch continues

Just over a month ago, Lawrence Shankland was on an eight-game scoring drought. Things have changed significantly for the Hearts striker over the past month or so, however, to the extent where he is capable of scoring even when he does not know much about it – as was the case in Saturday’s 1-0 win over St Johnstone. Liam Boyce’s well-executed shot appeared to be netbound anyway but it deflected off Shankland’s leg on the way in and was subsequently credited to the Scotland forward. Shankland now has 11 goals for the season at club level, with six strikes in his last six outings for Hearts.

Livingston are on the slide

David Martindale’s side are bottom of the table, one point behind St Johnstone and Ross County, following their sixth successive defeat. Sean Kelly’s first-half own goal gave all three points to hosts St Mirren and Livi have now failed to score in five or their last six games. They have three home games coming up, against Ross County, Hibernian and Kilmarnock, to try to get their season back on track.

No win for Derek Adams on Ross County return

Adams this week returned to the Staggies’ hot-seat for the third time, following the departure of Malky Mackay. His first game was against Kilmarnock at home but there was no new manager bounce. Killie had yet to win on the road and once again came up short, having to settle for a point from a goalless draw. The Dingwall outfit have gone 10 games without a win in all competitions and have not scored in the last three. Adams has his work cut out to get County back to form.

After another exciting cinch Premiership weekend, Celtic are still eight points clear of Rangers at the top of the table, albeit the Light Blues have a game in hand.

Livingston find themselves bottom after another defeat amid a St Johnstone resurgence.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five things that caught the eye.

Celtic bounce back in style

Brendan Rodgers’ side were thrashed 6-0 by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League in Spain on Tuesday, also ending up with 10 men following the dismissal of Daizen Maeda. The result left them bottom of their group and facing some heavy criticism.

However, they were on top form against an abject Aberdeen side in their Premiership encounter, with South Korean forward Yang Hyun-jun scoring his first Celtic goal and Japan striker Kyogo Furuhashi adding a second before the break.

Winger Luis Palma scored a penalty in the 76th minute and the Dons capitulated in 10 added minutes at the end of the game, with Celtic substitutes David Turnbull and Oh Hyeong-yu (two) on target as Rodgers’ men restored their eight-point lead over Rangers at the top of the table.

Ross McCausland shines on first Rangers start

Philippe Clement’s strong start to his Rangers reign continued with a comfortable 2-0 win at Livingston on Sunday. The Belgian has now presided over six wins and a spirited draw away to Sparta Prague in his seven matches in charge.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the win in West Lothian was the lively display of 20-year-old winger Ross McCausland, who earned his first start after six previous appearances as a substitute.

The Northern Irish youngster went close with an early attempt, won a penalty and appeared unfortunate to have a ferocious strike ruled out after team-mate Abdallah Sima was harshly penalised in the build-up.

Relief for under-fire Steven Naismith

This international break could have been extremely grim for Hearts and Steven Naismith if Saturday’s trip to Motherwell had not gone as smoothly as it did.

The Jambos boss was coming under heavy pressure after a run of one win in five matches and a generally underwhelming start to the campaign but Saturday’s impressive 2-1 win at Fir Park has served as a timely boost for the embattled manager.

Supporters were encouraged by the display and Hearts now sit within two points of third place. With a more favourable run of fixtures to come after the break, Naismith has given himself a chance to generate some winter momentum.

St Mirren dumped in Dundee

Stephen Robinson’s Saints side started the season in impressive style, moving up to third place in the table behind the Old Firm.

There were signs of a wobble before the Paisley side travelled to Tayside – one win in six in all competitions. However, there was little indication of a collapse on Tayside.

The Buddies found themselves two down at the interval with the loss of another double after the break. Robinson spoke after the game of a reset, as his side are now just two points ahead of Hearts.

Graham Carey finds a little positivity amid personal troubles

St Johnstone fans and the wider football community this week gave their support to Carey and his wife, Rachel Borthwick, who is facing up to another cancer battle.

After a 2-2 draw at home to Motherwell on Tuesday night in Craig Levein’s first game as Saints boss, the Perth side hosted fellow strugglers Ross County on Saturday.

A stunning strike by Carey in the 71st minute of a tight contest kept the three points in Perth and took St Johnstone off the bottom of the table and ultimately above Livingston and the Staggies.

Stephen Kingsley claims he was confident VAR would save him from the red card he was initially handed in Hearts’ 3-1 Viaplay Cup semi-final defeat by Rangers at Hampden Park.

The Light Blues were leading through a James Tavernier double, one from the spot, and a Scott Wright drive when referee Nick Walsh introduced another layer of drama to the occasion.

With around 10 minutes remaining Walsh showed already-booked Kingsley a second yellow and a red card for diving inside the Rangers box.

However, VAR intervened and after checking his pitch side monitor, Walsh deemed Gers substitute Ben Davies had tripped Kingsley and rescinded the second yellow and pointed to the spot, with Lawrence Shankland slotting in the penalty.

Kingsley said: “I got in front of my man and as soon as I got the touch on the ball I felt the contact on my left ankle so I knew it was a penalty.

“When he gave the second yellow I was very confident, I knew it was a penalty.

“I was hoping that VAR would do its job and thankfully it did.

“Nick Walsh said at the end of the game that he was glad that the right decision was arrived at and I said that’s what it’s there for.

“But right now we are disappointed with the result.”

It was another weekend of intrigue in the cinch Premiership.

Saturday saw a thrilling Edinburgh derby with wins for Celtic and Livingston while Steven Davis got his first win as interim Rangers boss on Sunday, as St Johnstone and Aberdeen fought out a stalemate.

Here are five things we learned from the weekend’s action.

Rangers fans demonstrate their despair again

Rangers players have become used to the sound of boos from their own supporters this season and the embarrassing 2-1 Europa League defeat against Aris Limassol in Cyprus on Thursday night was a low point. Early in the cinch Premiership match at St Mirren on Sunday, some Gers fans unravelled banners which read ‘heartless, passionless, leaderless; not fit to wear our colours’ which left no one in doubt as to their frustration. Skipper James Tavernier scored from the spot in the 29th minute after Saints’ Ryan Strain was handed a red card by referee Nick Walsh for handball. Further goals from attacker Abdallah Sima and Tavernier gave Rangers a 3-0 win and took them into second place, seven points behind leaders Celtic going into the international break where a new boss is likely to be appointed.

St Johnstone scrap for point at Aberdeen

It has not been a good season so far for Steven MacLean and his St Johnstone side. Sitting bottom of the table, a trip to Aberdeen might have been a daunting prospect. However the Perth side fought hard to keep a clean sheet and were well worth a point. Despite remaining bottom and still waiting for their first league win, MacLean was happy with the point and will hope a radical change in fortune is on its way

Luis Palma is finding his groove

The Honduran winger arrived at Celtic Park from Greek side Aris just ahead of the deadline and has made major strides over the past two weeks. The 23-year-old whipped in a late goal against Motherwell, was denied another late effort by VAR against Lazio and on Saturday smashed home a brilliant strike in Celtic’s 3-1 victory over Kilmarnock.

Nick Montgomery’s Hibernian side have resilience

The head coach stretched his unbeaten start to five matches in unlikely fashion following a poor first-half display at Tynecastle. “Hibs, Hibs are falling apart, again,” sang the home fans after Christian Doidge’s own goal put their side two up but Elie Youan soon scored twice in 83 seconds to seal a 2-2 draw. The winger had been handed an ultimatum to improve or be taken off at half-time and Montgomery was still making demands of his side to get forward in stoppage-time rather than settle for a point.

Motherwell in hot water?

New Livingston owner John McIlvogue set up a deal for every fan to get a free hot drink for braving the wet weather and they would have needed it to keep them warm amid an uneventful first 45 minutes. The game changed in stoppage-time though when Lennon Miller was sent off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity and Livingston capitalised on their man advantage as goals from Bruce Anderson and Sean Kelly earned a 2-0 win. Livingston have now lost just once in 12 home games while Motherwell have lost four games in succession, although there will be no panic at Fir Park considering the difficulty of the tasks and nature of defeats.

Steven Naismith hailed match-winner Alex Lowry as a special talent after the on-loan Rangers player’s late goal sent Hearts into the Viaplay Cup semi-finals.

Kilmarnock were in the ascendancy as the match edged closer to extra time, only for Lowry to strike in time added on to the regulation 90 minutes.

Brad Lyons had earlier cancelled out Jorge Grant’s opener before Lowry claimed his first goal since moving on loan to Tynecastle last month to seal the victory.

Naismith praised Lowry as one of the best young Scottish talents in the game but said he wanted to see more from the 20-year-old on a consistent basis.

The Hearts manager said: “Alex has got brilliant ability.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen in my whole footballing career a young Scottish player that I have been working with that has got such good … he can do things with a ball that a lot of others can’t.

“I’ve challenged him to see more moments like that.

“He’s been frustrated at not getting more game time but I said to him, you need to show moments and when you are on the park, you need to do more.”

Naismith was pleased to have a Hampden Park semi-final to look forward to but warned that his team would need to follow up that result, starting with a trip to play Ross County this weekend.

He added: “I was delighted to get through. It was the next step we needed to take.

“At this club there’s a demand to get to semi-finals and finals and ultimately win silverware.

“It’s a big win and everybody’s delighted but we do need to back that up.

“Over the past few seasons we haven’t had good performances at Kilmarnock, and Ross County has been the same.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes admitted he was frustrated that his players had unnecessarily chased a winning goal rather than waiting for extra time.

He said: “I was angry [at full-time] that we’ve allowed that type of goal to decide the cup tie. We had Hearts where we wanted them. We were in charge of that tie in the second half.

“We played the last phase of play as if we needed a goal to get back in the tie. We were guilty of trying to win it then. We were too excitable, too gung-ho to win a game of football in 90 minutes when we could have won the game in extra time.

“It was all last-gasp and unnecessary, almost as if we were chasing a game to win it in 90 minutes when we didn’t need to. We could – and should – have won it in extra time. But we allowed an opportunity for Hearts and they took it.”

Celtic and Rangers emerged with contrasting emotions despite both recording wins in week six of the cinch Premiership.

There were also wins for St Mirren, Hibernian and Aberdeen while Dundee and Kilmarnock shared the spoils at Dens Park.

Here are five things we learned from the weekend’s action.

Celtic get ‘monumental’ win

Brendan Rodgers called Celtic’s 3-0 victory at Livingston “monumental” after the champions built on their one-goal lead despite having Joe Hart sent off.

Celtic again showed a good response to adversity four days after picking up two red cards in a 2-0 defeat by Feyenoord.

Rodgers said: “Livingston is a notoriously hard place to come anyway, never mind with 10 men, so to play with that mentality was very good.”

Dons kick-start their season

Aberdeen had been experiencing their worst start to a campaign for almost a quarter of a century but they picked up their first win of the campaign at the sixth time of asking, and did so in emphatic fashion.

A 4-0 win over Ross County set the Dons up for a Viaplay Cup quarter-final in Dingwall on Wednesday.

The Saints go marching on

St Mirren are still only two points off the top after beating Hearts 1-0 in Paisley.

And it could have been more after they had three goals disallowed, two of them in controversial fashion.

Manager Stephen Robinson said: “I’ll let the fans enjoy it, let them dream and I’ll keep within the realism.”

Montgomery shows his intent

New Hibernian head coach Nick Montgomery made history in his first match at Easter Road by making Rory Whittaker the club’s youngest player at only 16 years and 44 days.

Whittaker was a ball boy for Hibs earlier in the season but he came off the bench in a 2-0 win over St Johnstone that continued Montgomery’s unbeaten start to life in Scotland since his move from Central Coast Mariners.

Rangers take a step back

That was the analysis of manager Michael Beale despite a third win and clean sheet in eight days.

Beale was unimpressed by his side’s performance in a 1-0 win over Motherwell, days after being left delighted by the same scoreline against Real Betis.

The goal came courtesy of a deflection off Cyriel Dessers and Motherwell had a number of chances to maintain their seven-month unbeaten Premiership run on the road.

Beale admitted: “We got away with one.”

Under-fire Rangers boss Michael Beale insists he does not need assurances from the Ibrox board about his future.

Beale was heavily criticised following the 1-0 defeat at home to Old Firm rivals Celtic at Ibrox before the international break.

The damaging loss came days after a 5-1 Champions League play-off defeat to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands to exit 7-3 on aggregate and the Light Blues already sit four points behind Celtic in the cinch Premiership.

Ahead of the trip to St Johnstone on Saturday, Beale was asked if he had been given assurances by the board.

“I don’t need assurances,” said the former Rangers coach, who revealed Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell will miss three to four games with respective knee problems.

“I am part of a plan in terms of where we are going as a club.

“It is something I am fully aware of and involved in and ultimately a football manager needs to win games of football and the last two we didn’t win so we need to get back to winning.

“We have seven games in 22 days so we have the opportunity to do that

“I speak to James Bisgrove (chief executive) every day, I speak to John Bennett (chairman) and other members of the board at least two or three times a week as normal and nothing has changed in that respect. So I am really comfortable.

“My relationship with James Bisgrove and John Bennett is extremely close.

“I know where we are at, I know the plan coming into the season and I know where we are going as a club.

“We are very aligned so I have no concerns about that. I can’t affect the background noise, I have to get on with my job.

“We have discussed the period up until the international break and it is a chance to reflect. I am disappointed with the results like everybody else.”

That Celtic were under-strength and had no fans inside the stadium added to the sense of frustration of Gers supporters who sent out volleys of abuse at their own players at the final whistle.

Beale said: “They were sharing their frustrations, it was heard loud and clear.

“The fans are frustrated and disappointed but if they think the players aren’t then that would be foolish because the players live and breath it every day.

“There have been some really honest words said in-house that remain between us but the talking needs to be done on the pitch.”

The former QPR boss remains “hugely confident” that he is the man to turn fortunes around.

He said: “We came into this season, our domestic win percentage was really high.

“We played nine games in the first month of the season and some of the new players arrived just before the season started and we had nine new players.

“I think we have brought really good players in. The time to judge them is not now. Naturally we would like the new boys to come in and hit the ground running, the reality is the team has taken a bit longer than I thought to settle.

“I will own the last game, the players will have to own it as well and now we have to show our worth in the coming months.

Cantwell was injured in the final stages of the 1-0 defeat by Celtic at Ibrox before the international break and fellow midfielder Dowell last played in the game against PSV Eindhoven at Ibrox on August 22.

Beale said: “Todd Cantwell will unfortunately miss the next three or four games as a result of the challenge at the end of the game. Kieran Dowell is the same but other than that everyone else is fit and raring to go.

“Todd has a problem with his knee, he played on. We had to send him for a scan, we thought it might be worse than what it was. Kieran has had a strange reaction with his knee. He is out jogging but we have to see how that goes.”

Danilo claims he “is so in love already” with Rangers after joining the Ibrox club on a five-year deal from Feyenoord, subject to international clearance.

The 24-year-old striker from Brazil becomes Michael Beale’s eighth signing of the summer transfer window in a move that had been long in the making.

Reports claimed Rangers offered up to £6million for Danilo but Beale played that down in midweek.

Danilo told the club’s official website that he was “super happy” to join the Light Blues.

He said: “I can’t wait to start playing at Ibrox in front of the supporters.

“I am so in love already with the club and I’m excited to be part of the Rangers team.

“It’s time to get to work and I hope that I can repay the love that they have shown to me.”

Starting his career in Brazil, Danilo made the move to the Netherlands and has featured for Ajax, FC Twente and Feyenoord.

He has won the Eredivisie title twice, firstly with Ajax in 2021/22 and with Feyenoord last season.

Beale said: “Danilo is a player that I have personally been aware of since his time at Ajax. He had a breakthrough year on loan at FC Twente and then back at Ajax before joining Feyenoord last summer.

“He has won the Dutch title in both of the last two seasons and his goal per minute ratio is very good.

“He is an exciting player who likes to create and score goals, he is one that I believe is a good fit for our squad and he will give us another big option in the attacking areas of the pitch.

“The discussions were ongoing for some time, so I am delighted that we finally have him at our club.

“Danilo really wanted this move and has a strong belief in the plan that we have for him and for the team moving forward – this was key in the negotiations as he really pushed to join Rangers. We wish him every success here at Rangers.”

Danilo will travel to Germany with the squad on Friday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s friendly with Hoffenheim.

Kieran Dowell, Dujon Sterling, Jack Butland, Sam Lammers, Abdallah Sima, Cyriel Dessers and Leon Balogun have already arrived at Rangers and it is expected they will be joined this summer by Jose Cifuentes.

Beale revealed Rangers have already secured a pre-contract agreement with Los Angeles FC for the Ecuadorian midfielder but are looking to bring the move forward.

Hibernian manager Lee Johnson believes standing David Marshall down as captain will suit the goalkeeper as well as the team.

Paul Hanlon has been restored as Hibs captain after Marshall wore the armband in Johnson’s first season in charge.

The 38-year-old faces fresh competition for the gloves with former Swindon keeper JoJo Wollacott, who joined on a three-year deal this summer.

But Johnson confirmed that Marshall would start in goal on Thursday when Hibs face Inter Club d’Escaldes in the first leg of the Europa Conference League second qualifying round in Andorra.

Johnson added: “It allows Marsh to concentrate on that goalkeeping battle.

“One of the big things is positionally on the pitch, you are trying to get information to players and it’s not easy to go by your captain when he’s in goal and 50-60 yards away.

“When I came through the door, don’t forget, Paul Hanlon was injured. I didn’t know anybody and at that point David Marshall was probably the only one in the squad I could guarantee would play.

“Marsh is a leader anyway, that’s a factor in this after having a discussion with Marsh.

“And also both ways, Marsh is also taking on an awful lot in terms of his future. He is doing a sporting directorship, he is doing his coaching badges as well, and being captain of a football club like this takes an awful lot of time up.

“You’d be surprised, just the little things like arranging the bonuses, the tickets, all that type of stuff, is a really important factor.”

Hanlon has played 535 times for Hibs and sits fifth on the club’s all time appearance holders list.

“With Paul having been here a while, it probably suits him best this season,” Johnson added.

“It’s clear for everyone to see that Paul is extremely trusted, that he has strong leadership and communication skills, and by playing in the centre of defence it allows him to get messages around the whole team quickly and effectively.”

Hanlon is one of several players Johnson has been mining for information ahead of his own European debut.

“I will have to lean on the experience of the boys,” the former Sunderland manager said.

“I have had a lot of conversations with the lads that have played in these European games because I didn’t play in European competition and nor have I managed in that.

“You can do all the work in the world in terms of studying the opposition but inevitably experience is always welcome. I don’t feel like we are short of it, the lads are well versed in foreign competition.”

Johnson revealed Martin Boyle would be on the bench in Andorra in a “cheerleading” capacity and would not feature as he continues his comeback from a serious knee injury.

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