Paul Heckingbottom has demanded that his Hibs players recapture the ability to “win ugly” as they seek to kick start their season at Kilmarnock tomorrow.
The Easter Road head coach branded his team “pretty but soft” after watching them crash to a 3-0 defeat away to Motherwell before the international break.
But now he’s looking for them to do the dirty side of the game, to dig in and win matches as they did last season.
“I said after the (Motherwell) game we looked like a pretty side who got beat,” insisted the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager. “We want to be able to win games and perform consistently.
“Towards the back end of last season we won a couple of games ugly. You could say we deserved to win them, but we still had to dig in. We’ve not won one like that yet.
“We’ve won one when we’ve been by far the best team and we’ve lost one against Motherwell where we passed the ball well but still got hammered.”
Heckingbottom is set to hand his latest signing, right-back Jason Naismith, his debut at Rugby Park with club captain David Gray sidelined with knee ligament damage and Tom James still recovering from an ankle injury sustained on the opening day of the season.
But while expressing the hope the on-loan Peterborough player will help make a difference to a side which has shipped 14 goals in its last four matches, Heckingbottom insisted the former St Mirren and Ross County defender can’t do it all by himself.
He said: “It’s a big ask for him to come in and solve problems. He has a reputation up here for being a character who is fully committed, 100 per cent, will defend and put his body on the line. Everyone speaks highly of him.”
However, Heckingbottom insisted the key to curing Hibs current woes lies in a concerted team effort.
He said: “You can’t blame the guys in defence as it all starts from the front.
“We need more from the front players, the pressure they put on the ball to try to win it back more cover in midfield. I speak to the players regularly, that if you make three mistakes in a row you’re going to concede a goal.
“We need to get back to, ‘I’ve made a mistake but my mate behind covers for me. I make a mistake, my mate behind can’t cover for me but the goalkeeper saves it’. That’s what we need and we’ve not done that often enough as we should.”
And Heckingbottom warned players who can’t meet his demands in that regard could well find themselves on the sidelines.
He said: “Not everyone will be comfortable doing that. If you’re not comfortable doing it you’re going to limit your game time. We want players who can win the ball back for us, handle the ball and score goals.
“We’ll keep working on the training pitch, but the teams we pick and the players being dropped will reflect that as well.”