Hibs coach reveals why even a star performer like Joe Newell won't simply walk back into team
A draw up there in October, the underdogs dished out a resounding defeat in December as Hibs struggled to reach the standards demanded of them and threatened to let their season slip.
But, some solid recruitment in the January window, allied to the return to fitness of several first-choice players has given everyone in the squad a shake.
With competition fierce in virtually every department of the team, there is fresh impetus and performance levels have lifted, with assistant manager John Potter admitting that there is nothing straightforward when it comes to team selection these days.
“When a team is going out and winning games, it’s difficult to change. But we now have what we feel is a really strong 20 players and we’re going out and performing and that’s not just the eleven that start; it’s the subs, the guys that train on a daily basis, the guys that are working that wee bit harder and itching to play.
“Some might see that as a problem but we feel we have a squad that are all capable of coming in, playing games and winning matches which is really important.
“We’ve got a good group, we have a good mixture of youth and experience, all different types. They have all played their part on and off the pitch this season and it’s important now we’re at the business end of the season that the whole squad contributes.
“Guys who weren’t playing have stepped up and substitutes have come on and done really well. It’s a group who are happy to help their team-mates in good and bad times and we are really pleased with that side of the club.”
Having suffered their blip as 2020 moved into 2021, recent wins have taken them back up to third and given them momentum as they head into the final 10 games of the league campaign. The new arrivals have played a huge part in that, providing motivation as well as stellar performances.
“Yeah, Matt [Macey, goalkeeper] as well,” said Potter. “We brought three signings in in January and they’ve just added quality. We can play [Jackson and Chris] in a few different positions and it gives us a bit of competition.
“I think if you look at our squad now we’re in a much healthier position. When you look at our bench now, we feel like we’ve got players who can come on and make a difference. It obviously helps everybody being fit at the moment.
“We can bring Joe Newell back into the squad, who’s training this week, so we’ve pretty much got a fully-fit squad. That’s great for us. And Chris and Jackson have been excellent. They’ve hit the ground running when it was difficult for them because the two of them hadn’t played a lot of football. But they’re naturally fit guys and naturally want to play, and they’ve been brilliant for us in the last four or five games.”
The fact that there is no guaranteed return to the starting line-up for a player like Newell, who has been one of Hibs’ best and most consistent players this season, speaks to the competition in the squad, as does the fact that Ryan Porteous and Kevin Nisbet have had to start the past few games on the bench.
“Joe’s had an excellent season, he’s probably been one of our best players; he’s a quality player and he comes back into the squad which is now very important. Everybody will be needed between now and the end of the season and it’s important to keep everybody ticking along and ready to go.
“People have proved this season that if you get your chance and you take it, you stay in the team. I’m sure that will continue to happen between now and the end of the season.”
Darren McGregor is one who has had to be patient in his quest for games but having been given the nod ahead of Paul Hanlon and then Ryan Porteus, who had been virtual ever-presents, he has contributed hugely to the upturn in fortunes since the club’s League Cup dismissal.
“It’s credit to Darren. I played with him when I was at St Mirren and I know what he’s like. He trains properly every day, looks after himself and he’s in great shape. We’ve had loads of discussions with him this year and he admitted we were doing well defensively and he didn’t really deserve a chance. But we always stress that when your chance comes, you take it and that’s down to him not anybody else. He’s made himself ready when the chance comes and he’s there on merit and doing really well.”
If selecting the team is becoming more difficult, the gameplan is simple: to win.
“We played Ross County not too long ago and they beat us fair and square. We know the threat they’ll pose. They’ll see it as an opportunity for them.
“But we’ve got to continue to win games if we want to stay where we are in the league and get to where we want to be, come the end of the season.
“Winning games is all it’s about for us just now.”