Hibs' 2019 review: Three head coaches, two Tynie wins and a new owner at Easter Road

Club looking for a bit of stability after year of change

Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 12:37 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 12:50 pm
Daryl Horgan celebrates scoring against Hearts. Pic: SNS
Daryl Horgan celebrates scoring against Hearts. Pic: SNS

It was a year which began far away in the sunshine of Dubai and ended on a cold, blustery afternoon much closer to home in Livingston.

The journey in between was long and winding, taking some unexpected turns while negotiating a few bumps on the road.

Who, for instance, could have envisaged that in the past 12 months Hibs would have found themselves playing under three head coaches. Off the pitch, there was also that historic takeover which saw Sir Tom Farmer’s 28-year tenure at the Easter Road club come to end as American businessman Ron Gordon took charge.

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Life under Neil Lennon had been anything but dull, his two-and-a-half years in Edinburgh punctuated by emotional outbursts, not least his shock threat to quit following Hibs’ defeat by Hearts in the penultimate game of the 2017/18 season, a result which saw his side finish a notable fourth on their return to the Premiership but one which also ended their hopes of clinching second place.

It was all quickly forgotten as Hibs began the following season with a decent Europa League campaign, although on the domestic front results were patchy, John McGinn having left for Aston Villa following the earlier departure of Dylan McGeouch while the on-loan Scott Allan had returned to Celtic.

However, as Lennon’s squad returned from the Persian Gulf, their numbers swelled by the arrival on loan by Ryan Gauld, who was soon joined by Stephane Omeonga and later by Marc McNulty, there was little hint of the storm which was to engulf the club.

Late on the final Friday night of January, whispers began to emerge of a bust-up between Lennon and, in particular, Flo Kamberi, who had been singled out in the preceding weeks which led to the striker emptying his locker at East Mains with the intention of returning home to Switzerland, only to be talked out of doing so by some of his team-mates.

Lennon and his assistant Gary Parker were immediately suspended by chief executive Leeann Dempster, with Eddie May and Grant Murray put in charge for the following day’s game away to St Mirren, one that was won 3-1.

A few days later Lennon and Parker left “by mutual consent”, a bizarre statement from the club insisting neither had been “guilty of any misconduct or wrongdoing” and that “no disciplinary process has been commenced”.

Lennon left Hibs seventh in the table but winless in five as Dempster led the search for a successor. As always, a plethora of names were linked with the vacancy including Scottish Cup winning head coach Alan Stubbs, John Doolan, Paul Hurst and Dean Holden.

Former Oxford, Blackburn and Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton emerged as a front-runner but, according to reports, “walked away” from talks after failing to strike a severance package should he be sacked.

Ex-Leeds United and Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom moved into pole position, the Yorkshireman moving in at the end of February and winning the manager of the month award within weeks and he instantly engineered a run of ten matches unbeaten in the league, including a first win at Tynecastle in six years.

The only setback in that spell was a Scottish Cup defeat by Celtic with Lennon back in charge for a second time following Brendan Rodgers’ defection to Leicester City – the timing of it all having set tongues wagging as is the wont of football gossip.

While former Dundee United midfielder Gauld struggled to make an impact, McNulty claimed eight goals and in doing so earned himself a couple of Scotland caps, while Belgian Under-21 midfielder Omeonga became a fans’ favourite as Hibs climbed to a fifth place finish.

Heckingbottom’s accusation that his players had “downed tools” in the final few games was quickly forgotten as fans looked forward to his first season in charge, a swathe of new players on board and with the promise of a new dawn under multi-millionaire Gordon.

Those hopes and dreams quickly evaporated, many of the new arrivals failing to have the desired impact as Heckingbottom won just one of his first 11 league games, a record which saw him and his assistant Robbie Stockdale sacked.

Jack Ross has since steadied the ship although, as he admits, Hibs suffer from an inconsistency which he needs to address along with re-balancing his squad.

Gordon, for his part, has chosen to fly under the radar, his only media presence since early July being via Hibs TV. His plans may be shrouded in secrecy, although he has insisted he’s fully engaged in all that is going on within the club as he works on a strategy which fans are eagerly hoping will be revealed in the coming weeks.