Melker Hallberg: Hibs squad is not hiding from the facts

Midfielder insists that players are "100 per cent" behind manager Paul Heckingbottom

Melker Hallberg does not want to be relegated to the bench
Melker Hallberg does not want to be relegated to the bench

Melker Hallberg has insisted he and his team-mates are fully behind under-fire Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom as the Easter Road club battle to end a run of nine matches without a win.

Heckingbottom was the target of the supporters’ fury after they’d seen his side throw away a two goal lead against Ross County. It was the sixth time they’d surrendered a winning position, the latest of four successive draws leaving them just one point off bottom place in the Premiership table and without a win since the opening day of the season.

Hibs could find themselves propping up the rest depending on results elsewhere tonight, But as they prepared for the visit of Livingston, Swedish midfielder Hallberg, one of ten new arrivals at the Capital outfit, claimed confidence remains high with in the home dressing room with everyone convinced they’ll soon turn the corner.

“It’s small details we are working on and talking through,” said the former Udinese player. “Eventually it will come. It’s just we need to keep going hard and doing the job.

“Of course it is frustrating but we know what we can do. We’re a good team, creating a lot of chances and, as I say, it’s small details.”

Asked for examples of what he means by “small details,” Hallberg could well have pointed to his early free kick against Ross County, the 24-year-old denied his first goal in a green and white shirt by the woodwork of goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw’s crossbar.

The fact he stepped up when Stevie Mallan has been recognised as Hibs’ dead ball expert surprised more than a few but Hallberg explained: “It’s not been easy to push him off the free kicks, but in the last few games Stevie has had a few and they’ve not gone in. So it was my turn - it was a close one.”

Two quickfire goals from Daryl Horgan - who had replaced Hallberg in a tactical substitution although he had picked up a booking in the opening 45 minutes - and Scott Allan early in the second half appeared to have finally put Hibs on the path to victory but, inexplicably, Heckingbottom’s players again surrendered the initiative and with it that longed-for win, former Easter Road striker Brian Graham throwing the Staggies a life-line, one they grabbed with both hands as Joe Chalmers lashed home a last-minute equaliser.

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Hallberg, however, was adamant that the propensity for throwing away leads was nothing to do with nerves, again citing those “small things” while failing to identify exactly what they are other than “it’s not just one thing”.

Concentration for the entire 90 minutes, though, is one thing he accepted needed to be addressed before adding: “There’s no nerves when we’re winning, it’s nothing to do with that. We are all positive, we know the situation and we’re all keeping as positive as we can.”

Heckingbottom’s message has, said Hallberg, been simple. “Stay concentrated,” he said. “We all know what’s going on but work on these small things and it will come. Just take it one game at a time.”

The head coach, however, is entitled to have his players take a collective responsibility for the shortcoming which has led to their current predicament, not just dressing room leaders, identified by Hallberg as experienced players such as stand-in captain Paul Hanlon and former Scotland internationalist Steven Whittaker who watched Saturday’s match from the main stand.

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He said: “There’s leaders, but it’s on all of us as a squad. We’re all taking the blame, we have to take total responsibility for everything. It’s not just the coach, it’s us as players as well, we need to take responsibility and we are behind our coach 100 per cent.”

Having not enjoyed a pre-season following his move from Danish side Vejle BK - arriving on a three year deal - Hallberg, now with seven games behind him, believes he is now getting up to speed in the Scottish game.

“It’s quicker, for sure,” he said. “The tempo is much faster and more physical. The quality is maybe the same as where I’ve been before, but the tempo is much quicker and I’m still getting used to it. I’m almost there. I just have to work hard every day to do as well as I can and help the team win games.”

With a Betfred Cup semi-final against free-scoring Celtic at Hampden on Saturday, the visit of Livingston, admitted Hallberg, gives each of Heckingbottom’s players the chance to convince their manager of their credentials to be part of that squad.

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However, he insisted, nailing three precious points is by far of greater importance to a side which has managed just eight out of a possible 30 so far.

He said: “I want to play at the weekend like everyone else. But tonight is important right now and all we are concentrating on is Livingston.”