Hibs Exclusive: Skipper on billionaire boost, European dreams and top-six crunch

Newell (left) hopes Hibs can celebrate a top-six finish - and beyond - with back-to-back wins.Newell (left) hopes Hibs can celebrate a top-six finish - and beyond - with back-to-back wins.
Newell (left) hopes Hibs can celebrate a top-six finish - and beyond - with back-to-back wins. | SNS Group
Newell wants current squad to get head start on bright future

Hibs skipper Joe Newell recognises that new investment in the Easter Road club has put extra focus on the need reach European heights. And he says the current squad are eager to deliver Bill Foley an instant return on his initial £6 million buy-in – starting with a final push to put themselves in the top six.

Billionaire Bournemouth owner Foley’s promise to establish Hibs as the undisputed third force in Scottish football is built on the presumption of UEFA group stage football providing both revenue and an avenue for players from within the Black Knight stable to experience elite European competition. Both seem a long way off, at present, for a side sitting seventh in the Scottish Premiership.

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Newell accepts that Nick Montgomery’s men will need maximum points from their final two pre-split fixtures just to give themselves a chance of overhauling Dundee, who have a one-point lead and a game in hand. And he’s equally aware that Foley’s promise of “help” in the market is based on an ambitious plan. One he’d like to see realised sooner rather than later.

The central midfielder, the regular on-field skipper in the absence of club captain Paul Hanlon, said: “Obviously with all that coming in, if we’re not in Europe, that’s where the club ultimately aims to be every year. I know that’s something Bill has come out and said, that he wants to be the third biggest side, challenging for a European place every year. So we want to get ourselves, under this new regime, in those spots as early as possible.

“But to be fair, it wouldn’t matter if there was investment or not. We do it for our own pride and our own sense of achievement as a team, for the club. We’ve got two massive games coming up. We’re under no illusions about that. But you’ve got to enjoy the challenge, enjoy the pressure.

“I think you’ve got to look at it like us needing six points. And it wouldn’t matter, whether we need the maximum points or we don’t, we have to go in aiming to win every game.

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“That will be the mindset. Because, even if we do get into that top six, our mindset wouldn’t be just sitting back and thinking that’s it done.  We want to be in the top six because we’re looking to compete for European places. We’re going to be trying to chase down teams anyway. So we’re going to need as many points as possible, six points before the break.

“It was a great result for Dundee, beating St Johnston on Saturday. We went into the dressing room after the Rangers game and saw it right away. Not what we would have wanted.

“You can obviously only focus on yourself. That’s all we’re doing. We’ve got a massive game on Saturday now, at home, and we can’t look any further than that, can’t look anywhere other than that challenge. Full focus is on St Johnstone.”

Newell, who played well in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Rangers at Ibrox, disputes the assessment that Hibs are no better than a mid-table team who find themselves exactly where they deserve to be, the Englishman saying: “I wouldn’t say so. There have been times during the season when that’s maybe the feeling you’ll get. There have been some performances early on in the season, especially.

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“But I think, in the last couple of months, we’ve shown we’re much more than that. We’ve just lost to one of the form sides in the league.  If you look at the previous five or six games, I don’t see us as that at all. With the team we have, we should definitely be challenging for Europe. And the club all know we should be. We’re not happy we’re not up there.

“So these are obviously two huge games coming up. This is where we need everyone to stand up and be counted.”

Reflecting on the improved performance in defeat at Ibrox, Newell said: “We get to analyse the games a lot, the staff here are brilliant, so there is no stone left turned. The more you play Rangers, the more lessons you learn.

“But it’s still obviously a matter of going there and doing it. We lost again. We’ve said a few times over the years that we’ve given a good account of ourselves at Ibrox, then come away with nothing.

“We need to find a way of going to Rangers and Celtic and getting something. Not just being happy to put in a good effort.”