Hibs boss on third place hopes, ignoring the negativity and the club's board

Lee Johnson stressed his Hibs side are aiming for third and ignoring the negativity as they prepare for a high-stakes Edinburgh derby.
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Both sides have lost their last four cinch Premiership games and the pressure was ramped up further on Johnson when Hearts sacked Robbie Neilson on Sunday after slipping to fourth. Hibs are only a point ahead of seventh-placed Livingston with two games to seal a top-six spot but Johnson has his sights firmly set on the European places.

Johnson said: “This is what we all wanted when we came here: big derby game, sell-out crowd at Easter Road, with something to fight for. This is why we came here, both as players and managers, not to be defeatist and negative but to go and be front foot and positive. I'm looking forward to the game, however much people try and make me not look forward to the game."

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Hearts will be led by Steven Naismith after Johnson's former Tynecastle team-mate Neilson paid the price for the board's fears over missing out on third and lucrative entry to European group-stage football. It is a prize which Johnson also covets.

“I don't think it's impossible for us to get third. Absolutely not," said Johnson, whose side are seven points behind Aberdeen. “This season, let me tell you, in the remaining seven games for that little bunch, has got a lot of twists and turns to come."

The former Sunderland manager was not shocked by Neilson's departure. “Things don't surprise me in football anymore,” he said. “We have talked about Scottish football being a goldfish bowl. A lot of managers have gone this season and a lot have been brought into question.

“You never like to see any manager lose their job, particularly quickly in their tenure, but you don't know the context. There is obviously a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at every single club. That's why I enjoy this club so much because there is really good communication from top to bottom.

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“We have an experienced board, a solid, sound board and they know that we are in this phase and we are fighting to be successful this season. The last two games have been really disappointing, however this is a big opportunity for us and we want to take it. We have to take it.

Hibs boss Lee Johnson speaks to the mediaHibs boss Lee Johnson speaks to the media
Hibs boss Lee Johnson speaks to the media

“We have a very young team and we are trying to build the club and we are trying to build a level of consistency. This week we will continue on that journey."

Johnson is “hopeful” that skipper Paul Hanlon will shake off a knee knock but inexperienced loan players Will Fish and CJ Egan-Riley could once again be called upon in central defence. The pair started there last week against Dundee United and Fish gifted the home side a last-minute winning penalty. The Hibs boss is looking to further develop the pair's “pitch personality”.

“We work on it,” he explained. “I don't know how many games they have both had but it's probably less than 30 between them, and it's a big day for them. But Will Fish has been fantastic. He made a mistake, the second goal was a poor one, more so because of the distance between the centre-halves which probably doesn't happen if you've got a daddy in there.

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“But our job as coaches is to add value and we show the boys clips, we work on them, we work on our defensive principles so there is a consistency of message and we make sure we give them confidence going into the game.”