Could Hibs board really opt for more instability with yet ANOTHER managerial change?

The case for and against unlucky gaffer in wrong place at wrong time
Why me? Monty awaits a verdict from upstairs.Why me? Monty awaits a verdict from upstairs.
Why me? Monty awaits a verdict from upstairs.

Football is a fickle business. And, rightly or wrongly, Nick Montgomery is at risk of being well and truly fickled.

With just seven months of service under his belt, the Hibs manager is far from guaranteed to be in situ when next season kicks off. His future is clearly a topic of discussion at the highest levels of the Easter Road command structure. Which is probably only right; no serious organisation can operate without proper performance reviews, especially in the wake of a near-catastrophic failure.

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While the Gordon family retain absolute power, it’s also fair to expect that Bill Foley – now on the Hibs board – and his Black Knight associates will be influential, should the club be minded to inflict more instability on themselves with another major upheaval. Right now, most would struggle to predict which way the directors will jump.

On the face of things, getting rid of Montgomery would be the very definition of insanity at a club severely damaged by a dizzying rate of managerial churn. Monty is the fifth man to fill the role of head coach since Neil Lennon’s departure in January of 2019. Paul Heckingbottom did nine months between the shafts, Jack Ross got a little over two years before being dumped, Shaun Maloney lasted five months, and Johnson was given a year-and-a-bit to play himself out of the job.

All of that chopping and changing? Apart from the instability and uncertainty it has created at East Mains, the constant air of revolution has left Hibs with an absolute mess of a squad. That’s just a fact.

Because each new manager must be allowed to recruit players capable of fitting into their own system and style of play, they’ve got a mix-and-match group of footballers trying to unlearn a lifetime of lessons. Or farmed out on loan because they just can’t do what the latest gaffer demands of his players.

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So yes, it would be grossly unfair to lay the blame for all of this at the feet of Montgomery, who just happened to be the poor sap sitting in the hot seat when the inevitable and unavoidable crisis hit. How much of this is his fault? Let’s take a look at the case for and against the gaffer.

For: Inherited a mess

Absolutely beyond all doubt. Hibs were bottom of the Scottish Premiership when Johnson left the building and, although David Gray had steered them to their first league points of the season just before Johnson’s arrival, nobody would argue that the new man was being asked to build on a position of strength.

And? So what? That’s football management. Rarely are gaffers afforded the double-edged luxury/curse of taking over a team absolutely flying. There’s almost always something wrong.

Against: He’s inexperienced

Montgomery got his first job in management in July of 2021. Prior to his arrival at Hibs, his only previous gig was as boss of Central Coast Mariners, who he guided to an A-League title against improbable odds. Having previously served as an assistant with the Mariners, his entire pre-Hibs coaching career – his apprenticeship, if you like – was served in one specific environment.

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If that meant his appointment last September was a gamble, however, a club like Hibs is almost forced to take a bit of a punt on young up-and-coming talent, in the technical area as well as on the pitch. Faced with a choice between a tried-and-tested coach who had kicked around the same old scene with as much failure as success, and someone with fresh ideas, they went for the bold option.

And, if a manager is talented and working to a solid plan, lack of hours flying solo needn’t count against him. Ask Aberdeen fans about Neil Warnock, if you still think a lifetime of experience is the deciding factor in the worth of a manager.

Monty may be inexperienced. But would Hibs fans have preferred and old head like Neil Warnock?Monty may be inexperienced. But would Hibs fans have preferred and old head like Neil Warnock?
Monty may be inexperienced. But would Hibs fans have preferred and old head like Neil Warnock?

For: He hasn’t been given a chance to rebuild

True. While it’s easy to say Hibs should always be competing for European places simply because they’ve got a far bigger budget than, say, St Mirren or Kilmarnock, Montgomery hasn’t spent a penny of that budget. Not really.

Most January arrivals were loan deals. His one proper signing to date, Nathan Moriah-Welsh, arrived on a free from Bournemouth. Monty isn’t the guy who gave Riley Harbottle a three-year contract last summer.

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The question asked by all boards when sitting in judgement over a manager, however, is whether they trust him to spend whatever funds might be set aside for the summer window, when all of the best business is traditionally done. Even when the funds are likely to be limited – which is now the case at Hibs.

Failure to make the top six will have a serious impact on their budget for season 2024-25. When every penny is a prisoner, absolute faith in the manager’s ability to spot a player – and accurately predict how said talent will fit into the existing group – is a necessity.

Against: He is responsible for results

It’s always the manager who pays the price for falling short. And a record of eight wins in 29 league games, even allowing for VAR farces and genuine bad luck, is tough to defend.

The manner of some of those defeats and dropped points, meanwhile, is a cause of serious concern to supporters who feel as if they’ve been watching the same movie for a very long time. It’s a real horror flick, albeit one where the late dagger to the heart is no longer capable of shocking a jaded audience. The loss of a goal in injury time against Motherwell on Saturday, a coup de grace for a Hibs side desperately trying to scramble their way into the top six, seemed to sum up the entire campaign.

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But Hibs have been soft for years, under a series of different gaffers. There’s a reason why rival fans have taken to calling them Collapse FC. And everyone’s heard the “falling apart” chant so beloved by opposition supporters. Expecting any manager to change the collective mentality in one January transfer window, always the worst possible time to recruit, hardly seems realistic.

The verdict: Not Proven

This uniquely Scottish finding, a halfway house between guilt and innocence, is probably just about fair. Every bit of logic may tell you that getting rid of Montgomery would be an idiotic act of self-harm. That he deserves to at least be given a chance to carry out a (diminished) rebuild in the close season.

Logical thinking is rarely to the forefront in football boardrooms, however. Especially not when they’re totting up losses. On and off the field. Hibs should ca’ canny. But will they?