New Hibs boss: The 11-point in-tray awaiting next man in charge

As Hibs search for Neil Lennon’s successor, here is an 11-point formulae for the new man to make a swift and positive impression at Easter Road ...

Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 5:30 am
Hibs received a much-needed boost with the win over St Mirren last Sunday and there is the nucleus of a good squad for their new head coach to work with. Pic: SNS


This Hibs squad is clearly in need of a boost entering the business end of a season which has so far been fairly demoralising. Due to a mish-mash of circumstances, nobody in the team has been able to produce their best form on a consistent basis. Most of the players have spent time on the treatment table, which has had a detrimental effect on sharpness and morale, while a string of poor results have caused a collective confidence dip. On top of that, the players have had to contend with the off-field issues which have come to the surface over the past few days. Despite their struggles, there remains a good squad at Easter Road. The victory over St Mirren will have helped lift the gloom – now they need a management team with the required man-management skills to restore belief and get the best out of them, individually and collectively.


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Even this season, when things haven’t been going well, Hibs have remained competitive against the top teams, picking up points from matches with Aberdeeen, Hearts, Rangers and Celtic. Between them over the past four-and-a-half years, Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon managed to create a mentality at Hibs whereby the players were emphatic in their belief that – on their day – they could go toe-to-toe with any team in the country and come out on top. Indeed, it was only last month that they destroyed champions-elect Celtic at Easter Road. The new man must ensure this big-game fearlessness is maintained and that Hibs continue to be deemed one of the most formidable opponents in the league by the rest the leading clubs.


The new manager would do well to lean on a dependable core of senior players who understand the club and have a strong rapport with the support. David Gray, Lewis Stevenson, Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor and Marvin Bartley can all be considered club stalwarts and all are good low-maintenance professionals who can help ensure a smooth transition for the new man. In addition to having a positive influence in the dressing-room, they can all enhance the solidity of the team on the field. Even allowing for the fact four of this quintet are into their 30s, a back four of Gray, McGregor, Hanlon and Stevenson, with Bartley anchoring midfield would give the new manager a strong base to build his team around. Gray, McGregor and Bartley are all nearing the expiry of their contracts but all three are worth retaining.


Despite being Hibs’ top scorer this season, Stevie Mallan has been unable to hit the heights many supporters had hoped or expected since arriving from Barnsley last summer. Part of this may be down to the fact he has not been played in his best position. In the search for a replacement for deep-lying playmaker Dylan McGeouch, Neil Lennon has predominantly used Mallan at the base of midfield. There was no harm in trying this, but it doesn’t appear to have worked, either for the player or for the team. While Mallan is clearly a tidy footballer, he is not yet able to dictate games the way McGeouch could and looks like a player crying out to be moved further forward, where he can hurt the opposition. An attacking midfield role, either centrally or out wide, should help get the best out of a player who excelled in various advanced positions in his time at St Mirren.


Florian Kamberi has been at the centre of the furore surrounding Neil Lennon’s suspension and, as a result, the microscope has been on the big Swiss striker in recent days. He clearly hasn’t been at his best this season, but there are mitigating circumstances, which have been covered elsewhere. While Lennon was clearly exasperated with Kamberi’s output, his form has been no more disappointing than that of most other players at Hibs. Over the past year, he has shown enough to suggest that he is well worth persisting with and should continue to be Hibs’ main striker. With ambitions of making his way on the international stage, either with Albania or Switzerland, and with his best years still ahead of him, there is plenty to be gained by restoring the morale of a player who has looked increasingly beleaguered and isolated recently.


Vykintas Slivka has been the epitome of inconsistent since arriving at Hibs 18 months ago. He has had some excellent games, particularly against Celtic and Rangers, where he has looked a real driving force in midfield, but he has also had too many matches in which he has drifted aimlessly, failing to influence proceedings. If the new man can find a regular position for him and get him to treat every game like he is playing one of the Glasgow teams, Hibs could have a real player on their hands.


A variety of mitigating factors – in particular a wretched run of injuries – meant Neil Lennon was unable to get any continuity of team selection in the first half of the season. Forced to change personnel on an almost game-by-game basis, the manager also felt compelled to change the formation all too regularly. While tactical flexibility is generally a good thing, particularly when the team is in a good vein of form and full of confidence, constant tweaks can have a confusing effect on players when things are not going so well. The new man would do well to try and develop some kind of continuity in terms of the system he uses. It is no coincidence that Lennon’s best spell as Hibs manager came when he consistently deployed they team in a 3-5-2 formation in the second half of last season and combinations (such as Kamberi and Maclaren in attack, and McGeouch, McGinn and Allan in midfield) were allowed to flourish.


Ryan Gauld and Stephane Omeonga must have been wondering what they had walked into when they lost their manager just one league match after arriving at the club. Both players will have had good reason over the past few days to doubt whether they made the right move and will be seeking reassurance from the new man that they are not wasting their time by staying in Edinburgh for the rest of the season. Lennon’s presence was a major factor in Gauld choosing to join Hibs and, having had previous loan moves turn sour in light of ill-timed managerial changes, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder will be particularly keen to see who replaces the high-profile Northern Irishman.


Ultimately results usually dictate whether supporters warm to a manager or not, but a clear desire to play attacking football, outward displays of passion, and a general appreciation of the loyalty and dedication shown by supporters will go a long way to winning them over. Both Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon enjoyed a strong bond with the fanbase, and the Easter Road faithful will be eager to see a new figurehead who gets their juices flowing in similar fashion, as opposed to a bland Colin Calderwood-type.


Although qualifying for Europe through the league now looks unlikely, Hibs are still in with a shout of Scottish Cup glory. They have a favourable home tie against League One side Raith Rovers – which could be the new man’s first game in charge – on Saturday week and victory in that would ensure they have a quarter-final to look forward to in March. A prolonged cup run would go a long way to maintaining the interest of supporters in a season which is in danger of petering out.


While there appears little chance of lightning striking twice, it is worth remembering that the last time Hibs changed managers during a season (from Pat Fenlon to Terry Butcher), they ended up plummeting from relative mid-table safety into the relegation play-off before dropping to the Championship. Hibs are 19 points clear of second-bottom Dundee, so they should be fine, but the catastrophic management of Butcher, who almost instantly lost the dressing room with his bull-in-a-China-shop approach, should serve as a cautionary tale for any prospective new Hibs manager.