'Everyone is in the back row with tin hats on' - Joe Newell on Hibs full-stop meetings, crazy league, and 'still being miles away'
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The manager and players know these as the ‘full-stop meetings’, the idea being that once the previous match has been analysed and discussed, a line is drawn underneath it and focus turns to the next match.
So far this season there have been more negative gatherings than positive. The team meetings are held in the same room as press conferences at HTC, with a row of seats not dissimilar to a small lecture theatre.
“The bad weeks, everyone is in the back row with tin hats on. The good weeks everyone is at the front,” long-serving midfielder Joe Newell explains with a laugh. "The meetings happen all the time, it’s just whether they are good or bad that’s the difference. We’re not going to get carried away, we’ve beaten Motherwell 3-2. It’s not like we’ve gone to Ibrox and won 5-0, it’s not party season yet. We’ve done our job. We’re still miles away from where we want to be. It’s nice to have a positive week, but it’s what we should be doing.”
January has been a busy month for Hibs so far in terms of player departures, results, and of course Johnson’s post-derby rant, for want of a better description. But a string of players have come out since then and given their take, particularly on the manager’s much-quoted claim about shifting ten players out of the club. Newell, one of the more senior members of the squad, has given his take on it too.
“You’re exposed to it from a very young age. As soon as you turn professional you see lads frozen out or kicking up a fuss because they want to leave, and you get used to it. You can’t think about it too much or let it affect you because it happens up and down the country,” he says.
"Everyone wants to be loved and be a part of things. There are a lot of details, length of contracts and other things. I imagine it’s a hard business for the manager and the hierarchy to deal with, but it just happens.”
Johnson believes Hibs aren’t a million miles away from where they want to be. Newell reckons the team are still some distance away from where they want to be. Can both manager and player be right?
“He’s right, we’re not a million miles away. Little things, injuries, decisions, moments of luck prove that. But in terms of league position, the form we have been in hasn’t been good enough. We beat Motherwell; if we win against Dundee United, beat Hearts in the cup, win against Aberdeen, then we can finally get going. It’s there for us and it’s achievable as well, it’s not out of the equation. It’s something we know we are more than capable of doing.”
Hibs narrowly missed out on the top six last season by the tightest of margins. Newell is obviously keen to avoid similar happening this year and indeed, help ensure that the team are in a much loftier position than last term and aren’t relying on other results.
“It’s the craziness of the league. I look back at how we missed the split last year,” he recalls. “We were on a horrendous run of form but we went to Hearts and if we won we’d have got in. You look at the results and wonder how we didn’t nick a win here and a draw there. It’s so tight. You put two wins together in the league you go up two, three, four places.
“When we finished third, a big quality of ours was that we ground out results and were hard to beat. We went away and didn’t play that well but would win 1-0 or something. That’s where we need to get back to a little bit.”
Despite Hibs having three managers in a 12-month period, there are still a number of players at Easter Road who were brought in by Jack Ross. Kevin Nisbet and Kyle Magennis are the two obvious ones from the current starting XI. But Newell was brought in by Paul Heckingbottom in the summer of 2019. Small potatoes compared to Hibs stalwarts like Paul Hanlon or Lewis Stevenson, but the midfielder has no answers for why much of the same players can’t replicate the performances of the 2020/21 season.
“There’s been a lot of change. Three managers in 12 months, a massive change in players in and out. Last weekend, there were five or six of us from the Jack Ross team but I don’t know why we’ve lost [that mentality]. There are a lot of things that come to mind. It’s the same players but there can be lots of different reasons why.”
Attention now turns to Dundee United, who come calling for Hibs’ first home game of 2023. Hibs scored first last weekend in their eventual 3-2 victory over Motherwell. Will the first goal be key once again?
“They’re a team who are a lot better than where they are in the league and what they’ve done so far this season,” Newell says thoughtfully. "As for beating them, at home I feel like we always start really well. Even away from home, we tend to start games well. It’s about being resolute, a clean sheet would be nice, and then Nizzy scoring another hat-trick.
“If you’d asked me two or three weeks ago, I think scoring the first goal would have been huge, because the run we were on then, mentally if you go a goal down it can be, ‘oh, here we go again’. But the confidence has been lifted a bit.”
Newell and his team-mates will hope that confidence can serve them well and help them pick up another vital three points – and allow them to leave the tin hats in the lockers for Monday’s full-stop meeting.