Hibs without seven players for Kilmarnock trip as Lee Johnson reiterates desire to finish third

Hibs will be without seven players for Saturday’s cinch Premiership trip to Kilmarnock, but manager Lee Johnson remains focused on finishing third.

Martin Boyle, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Kyle Magennis, Aiden McGeady, Harry McKirdy, Lewis Miller, and Kevin Nisbet are all sidelined while Demetri Mitchell is also a doubt after being replaced in the first half of the 2-0 defeat by Ross County on Tuesday night.

Manager Lee Johnson, who is hopeful that those working their way back from injury can help reignite his team’s campaign when they return to action, spoke about the various setbacks.

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"Harry McKirdy has a Grade 1 thigh injury. He’s back out on the grass but not striking balls yet; Demetri came off with a bit of a calf issue on Tuesday and a bit of a fitness issue as well as he wasn’t at 100 per cent, and Kyle Magennis has had a very slight hamstring strain, of which we got the scan results back today. So he is likely to be one to two weeks off his feet with that."

Boyle has already travelled to Qatar as he steps up his recovery from a leg injury that will hopefully allow him to feature for Australia in their World Cup group matches against France, Tunisia, and Denmark after being forced to miss Hibs’ league matches against Aberdeen at Pittodrie and Malky Mackay’s side earlier this week. He has been a miss for Hibs in the last two games and his absence will likely be keenly felt against Killie, such is his influence.

"Martin’s gone out to the Aspire Zone in Doha now. They'll be in daily contact with the physio department here,” Johnson added.

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Johnson accepted the criticism that came his way and that directed at his players in the aftermath of Tuesday’s meek defeat at the hands of the Staggies, but insisted he would remain bold as he sought to improve his side and maintain their pursuit of third.

"As a football manager, part of your role is to make peace with the worst-case scenario, and that allows you to be bold. The one thing that can never be thrown at me is that I'm not bold in terms of decision-making,” he said as he previewed the game at Rugby Park.

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Lee Johnson insists Hibs want to be third as a minimum

"I have always felt like that, I played like that, it is my personality. You obviously have to manage the players you’ve got. Looking at our injury list, you might have to tweak the dial because you’re missing three or four pieces of the jigsaw. I don't always get it right but the way for us to improve is to have longevity, to have the same manager, and to have four, five, six transfer windows.

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"We want to be third, minimum, but it is a work in progress, to get there. I don't know the history but someone mentioned we have finished third three or four times in 35 years, so we have to be different, not necessarily over-complicate things, but be better at what we do over a period of time.

"However, focus always turns to the manager based on those individual results and unfortunately as a manager that is one of the considerations you have to live with and now with a social media element that can fire a particular theory, feeling or pattern very quickly, it becomes something you have to manage. But it doesn't stop you doing your job in the correct way and I feel here that I have the support of everybody and feel like we are going to be successful."

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After the disappointment of Tuesday night, which was the Capital club’s fifth defeat in six matches, Johnson has urged his players to up their game both collectively and on an individual basis.

“We want to see grit and determination. That can come across on the pitch in a number of ways; winning your tackles, winning your headers, and winning your individual battles. But it is also about having the mental strength and capability to go and produce our best actions when it matters most.

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“The last action is always the most important one, in any move, so there is a big focus on that. We’ve got a point to prove, when you go to these places, you need to be solid and go back to basics – that should be the foundation of our performance.”

Kilmarnock are currently bottom of the Scottish Premiership having accrued 12 points from 15 matches. Their most recent result was a 4-0 reversal at Tannadice but Derek McInnes’ side have been stronger at home than they have on the road – not unlike their visitors on Saturday – and Johnson has reiterated the need for Hibs to look after themselves first – and win ugly if possible.

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"Have we got the players to win ugly? That’s the question. I think we have. We’ve got speed and there are different forms of physicality. Agility, strength of mind… I don’t think it will be the biggest underdog story if we go and get a result, even if it might be an underdog mentality because it seems a long way to go from a pretty poor performance to getting a good win, that’s my job to instil that belief in the individuals and the team.

“It will be a difficult challenge as all the games are in this league. To be honest, our challenge is on ourselves. We need to focus on ourselves: what we can do better, what we do well, and make sure we implement that to the best of our ability.

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“The opposition almost becomes irrelevant in that sense – they will try to play their style and win the game but we will be making sure we do the basics extremely well which will give us a platform to be creative in the final third.”