Joe Newell hopes spot-kick can help kick-start his Hibs season
Joe Newell hopes his sudden-death penalty winner to clinch a Betfred Cup semi-final can be a turning point both for him and Hibs.
The former Rotherham United midfielder has found game time hard to come by since arriving at Easter Road as one of head coach Paul Heckingbottom’s nine summer signings.
But, he insisted, he didn’t expect to immediately nail down a starting place, saying: “The gaffer did make quite a few signings but the standard of the lads who were here already is part of it.
“They are good players, so it’s not like the new lads have walked into a team full of pub players which made it a certainty that we were all going to play. It is a good standard here.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I would never expect to play and win every week. You can’t expect that.
“I get on well with the gaffer. We’re still getting to know each other as I’ve only been here a few months. But it’s like any manager, he can only pick 11 players.
“He has to pick who he thinks can get him a result. It’s tough for whoever’s left out, but he’s got to know the lads who aren’t playing are going to remain professional, train well and do everything to help the team.”
Winning every week has been something that has eluded Hibs, three successive defeats sending them spinning down into second bottom place in the Premiership table while 26-year-old Newell, pictured, hasn’t started a game since the middle of last month.
But he stepped off the bench at Rugby Park on Wednesday night, as he had done 11 days earlier as Hibs lost 2-0 to Kilmarnock, to play his part in winning that day out at Hampden when today’s visitors to Easter Road, champions Celtic, will be the opponents again.
After the five regulation penalties had resulted in the sides level at 4-4, Newell took the next one and scored, leaving goalkeeper Chris Maxwell to save the effort of Killie’s Niko Hamalainen and so ease some of the pressure which had been building on Heckingbottom.
Admitting the thought of missing didn’t bear thinking about, he said: “Yeah, it was big - but you just have to try to concentrate and think positively. There was a bit of pressure but it was a penalty shootout, that’s the beauty of it. You just have to try to thrive on it and embrace it.”
Newell revealed he was under even more pressure the last time he’d taken a penalty - 12 minutes into time added on in a Yorkshire derby following injuries to two opposition players.
He said: “It was probably even worse because it was in the 102nd minute for Rotherham against Doncaster. It was 1-1 and I had the penalty to win it with the last kick of the game.”
Newell scored that day as he did in Ayrshire and now he’s looking for it to help lift everyone at Easter Road.
“Hopefully it can be a sign of things changing, for me personally and for the team,” he said. “Hopefully we can all kick on now and the players and coaches can show what we are capable of.
“We know what we have got here and know we can be a force in the league and that we should be up at the top end of the table.”
Hibs have had to quickly put any celebrations to one side as they prepare for the visit of Celtic, Newell conceding extra-time and penalties ahead of today’s lunch-time start wasn’t ideal for him and his team-mates.
He said: “I know they had a game as well, but it’s a lot of minutes for the lads and with it being an early kick-off there’s not a lot of time to turn around. But we’ll be find.
“We’ve prepared properly and done all the right things in training and hopefully the penalty shootout win will spur us on and kick-start our season.”
Celtic will be favourites to win today’s encounter but, revealed Newell, Heckingbottom’s players have talked of how they beat Neil Lennon’s side last time they came to Easter Road.
He said: “The big games up here are the Edinburgh derby, Rangers and Celtic. They are the attractive ties and we’re all looking forward to it.”