Next Hibs manager: The eight-point plan sitting in new man's inbox
Anthony Brown analyses what Paul Heckingbottom's successor will need to do when he arrives at Hibs
Raise morale of the players
No Hibs player can be deemed to have performed at their best this season. Even allowing for the fact that the squad doesn’t look particularly inspiring on paper, there is clear room for improvement within every individual at the club. Many of these players have been heavily criticised by supporters and haven’t been used to winning matches in a green shirt. They need a lift and an injection of confidence. This may be achieved merely by the arrival of a couple of fresh voices in the dressing-room, and could go a long way to lifting performance levels - in the short term, at least.
Separate the wheat from the chaff
The January transfer window opens in less than two months. Given the well-documented frailties within the squad, the chance to get some fresh quality in appears to represent the new Hibs manager’s best chance of getting any genuine fulfilment from this season. If persisting with the current squad until the end of the campaign, then even trying to scramble into the top six would appear a tall order. The new man needs to quickly establish which members of the current squad he wants on board with him, and which ones are dispensable.
Try a Flo/Doidge partnership
Playing a solitary central striker is not in itself an issue as plenty top teams worldwide operate this way. However, it has not been working for Hibs, with both Christian Doidge and Florian Kamberi struggling to generate any momentum in the lone-striker role. Hibs’ best moments under both Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon came predominantly with two strikers, either in a 3-5-2 formation or in a 4-4-2 diamond. Supporters are eager to see Hibs play two up front again, and the players appear to be of a similar mindset. “I think Doidgey, like me, also feels more comfortable when he has a partner beside him,” Kamberi said a few days ago. Both players have proven they can score goals consistently in previous phases of their careers, but leading the line in a struggling Hibs team is doing neither player any favours. Hibs need to become a more dangerous attacking side and getting the best out of their main strikers is crucial in that regard.
Stiffen up midfield
Just as Paul Heckingbottom managed to cobble together a coherent midfield unit from the remnants of Neil Lennon’s reign in his own early weeks in charge, the Yorkshireman’s replacement must now do likewise. With no genuine midfield stardust currently in the Hibs squad outwith Scott Allan, the priority is ensuring they at least become hard to play against after becoming a team with a soft centre and no authoratitive figures in the engine room. Unless the likes of Melker Hallberg or Josh Vela can show swift and significant improvement, a change of formation, either to a diamond (extra bodies in the central area) or a 3-5-2 (security of an extra-centre-back), continues to look the best way of disguising the shortcomings at the base of midfield. Alternatively, centre-back Paul Hanlon could step forward to play in a holding role on a temporary basis until a more viable long-term solution is found.
Enthuse the fans
Ultimately this will be done primarily by winning football matches, ideally with a bit of style and swagger. However, supporters like to feel some kind of connection with their manager, whereby they respect him and feel like he is genuinely the man to lead them forward. This is something Paul Heckingbottom never truly managed. He was a low-key appointment in comparison to his predecessor Neil Lennon and lacked the presence and assurance of Alan Stubbs. Hibs fans want a team that plays with personality and character. In that regard, the new manager will be expected to set the tone.
Sort out goalkeeping situation
Hibs now have a situation whereby their fans’ favourite and Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano has spent the past month and a half sitting idle and frustrated on the subs’ bench after conceding a couple of soft goals earlier in the season, while Chris Maxwell, on loan from Preston North End, has taken command of the gloves. The Englishman made a high-profile error against Celtic last Saturday and is yet to convince supporters that he represents an upgrade on Marciano, who is contracted to Hibs for another 18 months. With Marciano in no mood to be a back-up at this stage of his career as he bids to stay involved in the Israel set-up, the new manager must decide which of these two experienced keepers to place his faith in.
Get some early points on the board
With an international break following this weekend’s trip to St Johnstone, Hibs will hope to have a new man in place in time for the home game against Motherwell a fortnight on Saturday. That being the case, his first four games would be at home to Well and Kilmarnock, and away to St Mirren on Ross County. Thereafter, the fixture list becomes significantly more testing on paper, with a formidable run of matches at home to Aberdeen and Rangers and away to Celtic, Hearts and Livingston prior to the winter break. If the new manager is to ease Hibs’ predicament in the short term, he will surely have to notch at least a couple of victories in his opening few matches.
Don’t get relegated
Hibs are currently tenth in the league, one point off the bottom of the Premiership. Although their hopes of making it into Europe already look slim given that they are 12 points adrift of fourth-place Aberdeen, they are still only five points outside the top six with a game in hand. While it is natural that supporters and the new manager will want to look up the way, they have to be mindful of the dangers of complacency. The last time Hibs changed managers at roughly this stage of a campaign, when Terry Butcher replaced Pat Fenlon, they ended up getting relegated. This Hibs squad certainly isn’t too good to go down. The immediate priority is to fend off the genuine spectre of a relegation battle. Regardless of what he thinks of the squad he is about to inherit, the new manager must ensure he keeps the players onside, unlike Butcher who alienated many key men after taking the reins six years ago.