'He's been missed' - Hibs boss Monty on return of key player for County test

Hibs manager Nick Montgomery looks ahead to their weekend match against Ross County. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS GroupHibs manager Nick Montgomery looks ahead to their weekend match against Ross County. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group
Hibs manager Nick Montgomery looks ahead to their weekend match against Ross County. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group
Star midfielder clear to play after serving one-match suspension

Joe Newell’s return from suspension should give Hibs a serious lift as they travel to Dingwall for Saturday’s meeting with Ross County, with the midfielder’s absence keenly – and obviously - felt in the weekend loss to St Johnstone. On a day when Hibs failed to make the most of dominating their hosts, in terms of possession, the central midfield pairing of Jimmy Jeggo and Dylan Levitt struggled to set the high tempo needed to break down Craig Levein’s dogged battlers.

Part of that problem undoubtedly lay in the fact that the Jeggo-Levitt partnership hasn’t been a regular pairing under Nick Montgomery; you can’t just expect them to click straight away. The manager isn’t claiming that Hibs lost in Perth because one player, however influential, was missing from the starting XI.

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Still, Monty is thrilled to have Newell available again, declaring: “Joe is a big player for the team - and sometimes you become a better player when you don’t play! He was missed on the weekend because he has been a real consistent for us in there.

“We didn’t lose the game because Joe Newell wasn’t there, we lost it because we didn’t perform. Although we had 62 per cent possession of the ball, what we did with it wasn’t good enough. It was too slow, we didn’t create enough opportunities to score goal, then we got sucker punched and that’s what happens in football. It will be nice to have Joe back in the squad - and everyone is fighting for positions this weekend.”

Obliged to make it sound as if Newell is fighting for his place, it would be a major shock if the 30-year-old isn’t one of the first names on the team sheet. Because he’s become absolutely integral to how Hibs want to play.

Building from the back might seem like a tactic heavily dependent on having a goalkeeper and defenders who are comfortable in possession. But equally important is the ability of midfielders to drop into space, play a one-time pass with just the right weight and angle – and then be smart enough to get in a good position for the next phase of the “breakout” beyond the opposition press.

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When he replaced Lee Johnson in September, Montgomery immediately placed increased demands on Newell, asking him to do more to help the team. And, as important as he is when Hibs have the ball, it all started with what he did out of possession.

“He has become more involved in the game,” said Monty. “He is very good on the ball and can dictate play but off the ball he needed to do more and work harder.

“As a two-man midfield, there is a lot of work for him and Jimmy Jeggo or Dylan Levitt to do in there, in the middle of the park. It is a good role and they are the real engine of the team, connecting back to front and to help give security when we lose the ball.

“It is a big job and a big position - but Joe is having a good season. He is developing and improving, the same as everybody. I told Joe he could give more, and he has been giving me everything so I’m really happy with the way it’s been going.”

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Levitt endured a particularly torrid afternoon against St Johnstone, with his mistake – trying to play out from his own penalty box but misplacing a pass – leading to the only goal of the game. It was an error that left the Welshman feeling pretty low.

“Dylan was devastated after the game, but it was a mistake and that’s not on Dylan, that’s on the team,” said Montgomery. “In that moment that was a mistake, but I was more disappointed with our reaction and the fact we didn’t get him out of that mistake by reacting quickly enough. I am taking no credit away from their striker because it was a fabulous finish from that position.

“But I didn’t need to tell Dylan anything. He was visibly upset after the game, but he is a top player and a good lad and that’s gone now. He has been training really hard and he will be ready for this weekend.”

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