Hibs star defends what Nick Montgomery did v Rangers ahead of Celtic fixture

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Hibs true believers not shaken by heavy defeat

Fans can ask questions and pundits can mock the manager for daring to try something other than the same old tried-and-failed exercise in bus parking. The Hibs players are not for turning. If the scale of their defeat at Ibrox will rightly force some reassessment of the fine details and hairline fractures exposed by Rangers, belief in what Nick Montgomery wants to achieve remains unwavering.

The professional athletes asked to carry out the orders of a still-new coaching staff have seen enough, in half a dozen games, to believe that the end goal – building a team capable of taking on the very best at their own possession game – needn’t be some outrageous pipe dream. Will Fish, given a torrid time in the centre of a defence that shipped four goals without reply on Saturday, says simply: “The staff are unbelievable at the technical side of the game, how they want us to play. It’s about us players buying into that - and I’m sure going forward we will be successful.”

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Conventional thinking in Scottish football holds that Hibs were never going to get a result on Saturday. Not by playing an attacking 4-4-2 that left them open to counter-attacks and struggling to pack bodies between Rangers and the away goal. As anyone who has watched enough games at Ibrox or Celtic Park can testify, of course, the risk of a less ambitious approach – of simply packing the defence and hoping to avoid a thrashing – lies in producing a performance so meek that supporters feel embarrassed by the occasion.

"We want to play football and play out from the back, and that’s how it is,” said Fish, in defence of a tactic that saw Hibs regularly break the first Rangers line and progress into the final third. If you make mistakes against Rangers, you are going to get punished. That happened, we weren’t good enough defensively. But I do think we genuinely stuck to the game plan and tried to play out.

"We were five, six games unbeaten before that. Everyone is buying into the manager’s new style of play. I think in a few more weeks, we will be even better. There are top players at Rangers, especially up front. If you make mistakes as a defender playing at Ibrox then you are going to get punished.

"We’re going to have to look back at the game this week and see where we went wrong. But we’ve got a big few weeks coming up so we can’t dwell on it. We need to use it as some motivation and get back on the training pitch and put things right.”

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The prospect of playing Celtic this Saturday, with Aberdeen at Hampden a week later and a home game against Ross County sandwiched in between, should be enough to sharpen focus at East Mains over the coming days. And, yes, there will be a proper post-mortem on events at Ibrox – and a day when Rangers definitely enjoyed a new manager bounce.

Fish said: "That was something that we all knew, Ibrox would have a good atmosphere. When any new manager comes in the players are going to give a reaction to show why they should be playing. It was a tough day but, as I said, we can’t dwell on it.

"It’s quite an experienced team and everyone has played at Celtic Park or Ibrox before. We stuck to the game plan that the manager wanted and, at the end of the day, we came up short.

"I’d probably say we had half-chances, to be honest. It was one of those days. I can’t really remember a shot we had apart from that [Paul Hanlon chance early on]. We’ve got to be better in the final third but at the end of the day, we’ve conceded four goals. We’ve got to defend better and be more streetwise.”

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The first defeat of the Montgomery era would, of course, have offered Hibs players a fresh insight into the new manager. Here was a chance to see how the gaffer reacts to a loss.

Fish summed up the head coach’s reaction in just a few sentences, revealing: "Don’t get too down about it. We’ve got a big few weeks coming up. Just use it as a learning experience for going forward.”

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