Analysis: Why Hibs parted ways with Jack Ross at the right time as big-game failings and lacklustre performances became concerns

It started with a bang at Easter Road and ended in a meek whimper at the Tony Macaroni Arena.

By Patrick McPartlin
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 4:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 9th December 2021, 5:24 pm

Jack Ross recorded a 3-1 victory over Motherwell in his opening match in charge of Hibs while his final act was a dismal 1-0 defeat in West Lothian, with his side reduced to nine men.

Speaking afterwards he described his team as “nowhere near good enough in terms of energy levels, quality, and discipline” but the underlying theme was that the wretched display was all down to him.

Ross frequently shouldered the blame if Hibs didn't perform during his tenure, when other managers might have thrown the players under a bus. He talked positively of recent performances even when results didn’t go their way.

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Ross came unstuck at the Tony Macaroni Arena on Wednesday night

But there were already rumblings of discontent among the support following the recent run of results, and his optimism in the face of defeats and draws did not go down well with the fanbase.

When there were loud chants inviting Ross to go elsewhere in the aftermath of the Livingston defeat, things looked more bleak than ever for the 45-year-old. But with the Premier Sports Cup final just ten days away it seemed likely that he would at least be given until his sixth trip to Hampden with Hibs to turn things around.

However, there is a sense that those at the top at Easter Road these days have a more ruthless streak about them. Cup final or not, the club's hierarchy believes things need to change.

Perhaps the mindset was that changing the manager now would give the team a better chance of success in next week’s showpiece at the national stadium.

Jack Ross has been relieved of his duties as Hibs manager after 96 games at the helm

What went wrong?

It could be argued that, with the squad available, Hibs underachieved last season. Finishing third for the first time in 16 years was good but there was a feeling among the fans that one, or even both cups, were there for the taking, but the team failed to deliver. For some supporters, that was the start of their disillusion with Ross.

If there were questions about the team underachieving last season then they have certainly done so this term. In Europe, the club orchestrated its own downfall against HNK Rijeka, with poor recruitment and silly errors ultimately costing Hibs in Croatia.

The league season started well enough, but the loss to injury of Christian Doidge and then Kyle Magennis robbed Hibs of two key attacking outlets and laid bare the seriousness of the club’s failure to bring in adequate additions during the transfer window.

There weren't enough moments like the semi-final victory over Rangers during Ross' tenure

Despite that, the club soldiered on and it wasn’t until the 2-1 defeat at Ibrox in early October that the rot really started to set in.

Four points from a possible 27 is eye-wateringly bad, no matter which way you look at it. The Premier Sports Cup semi-final victory over Rangers was an indication of what this team could produce on their day, but it should have sparked a resurgence in form.

Instead, the team travelled to Dingwall on a Wednesday night and lost 1-0 to a struggling club while having two players sent off late on. Sound familiar?

What next?

While it’s best to be wary of the “new manager bounce”, most important for Hibs in the immediate future is a result in Paisley.

Former captain David Gray has been placed in interim charge – “for the foreseeable future”, according to the club – supported by Eddie May and Craig Samson. It would be an incredible fairy tale were he to lead Hibs to glory in one domestic cup final having won the other for the club as a player after 114 long years in 2016 but despite his wish to enter management, the opportunity may have come too soon for the Easter Road legend.

Given his standing at the club, he may be the perfect man in the short-term to elicit a reaction from what is undoubtedly a talented squad. Following Neil Lennon’s departure in February 2019, Gray played as Hibs, under an interim management team including May, won 3-1 at St Mirren, so if any Hibs fans are looking for an omen…

What does seem clear is that the new manager will be backed in January to avoid a repeat of the summer transfer window. It’s coming up four years since Hibs recruited Scott Allan, Florian Kamberi, and Jamie Maclaren and set about taking the Scottish Premiership by storm and there will be hopes of similar in 2022.

The 5-5 draw with Rangers was the second half of Hibs’ campaign in microcosm: absolutely devastating going forward but comically haphazard at the back.

At the moment there’s not so much of the former, and far too much of the latter. The way things have been going for Hibs, the departure of Ross is perhaps not that surprising.

Relieving the manager of his duties so close to a cup final and the January transfer window suggests that his position may have become untenable. The performance and attitude of the team on Saturday against St Mirren will possibly tell us more than we currently know.

Jack Ross and his legacy

Ross took Hibs to third for the first time in 15 years, as well as reaching two cup semi-finals and two finals. Had he been backed in the transfer market during the summer, he might still be in a job.

But even before the recruitment debacle, there were questions about his record in big games. One victory over Hearts and Rangers apiece and a handful against Aberdeen weren’t enough for a support who had become accustomed to better and certainly not given the squad at his disposal.

Percentage-wise, Ross will have outperformed a number of his predecessors but stuttering on the big stage and some lacklustre performances in recent weeks suggests that the time was probably right for a change.

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