Talking point: Paul Heckingbottom deserves so much credit for Hibs revival

Wednesday, January 23. 9.37pm. Fir Park. Referee Bobby Madden blows for full time and Motherwell earn a 1-0 win over Hibs.

By Mark Atkinson
Saturday, 16th March 2019, 6:52 pm
Updated Saturday, 16th March 2019, 7:02 pm

The Easter Road players trudge off the pitch, digesting a damaging defeat that appeared to terminate their Europa League qualification hopes and jeopardise their top six ambitions. The result left Hibs languishing eighth in the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Two days later and we learn that Madden's whistle also blew time on then head coach Neil Lennon's Hibs tenure, his final match at the helm turning out to be that insipid 1-0 defeat in Lanarkshire as he was suspended by the club.

Fast forward to Saturday night and Hibs skipped off the Easter Road turf celebrating a 2-0 win over the very same Motherwell, a result that moves them five points clear in sixth place. Arithmetically, Hibs haven't secured their place in the top six, but they are almost there. One more win before the split should do it.

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Paul Heckingbottom congratulates Marc McNulty at the end of Hibs v Motherwell. Pic: SNS

A lot has happened in the period between that aforementioned night in January and a much more merrier March date from a Hibs perspective. Lennon's exit, a couple of player departures, some fresh recruits and, the largest of them all, a new boss in Paul Heckingbottom.

The amiable Yorkshireman has reinvigorated Hibs. He's dragged the club up from its bootstraps. Make no mistake, Hibs were floundering under Lennon. The spark had gone. Trouble was in the air. Heckingbottom has galvanised a squad shorn of numbers and confidence. He's found a system that suits the players at his disposal. He has created an environment in which his players can flourish. Remember, Hibs are yet to lose in the league under him, beating Hamilton, Dundee, St Johnstone and Motherwell, while drawing with Rangers. His only defeat came to Celtic in Scottish Cup.

Hibs were five points off the top six when he arrived; now they have a five point cushion with three games remaining before the league halves. He's getting the best out of Florian Kamberi, Daryl Horgan, Mark Milligan and Vykintas Slivka, men who were losing their way under the previous regime. He's instilled tactical discipline to the squad. Okay, he's had Marc McNulty and Stephane Omeonga to work with - Lennon put the wheels in motion for those deals - but he's also operating without Ryan Porteous, Ryan Gauld and Martin Boyle. There is a positive air around the club.

Heckingbottom will tell you that his work has just begun and he's right. His unbeaten run in the league won't last forever. However, he's laid some pretty solid foundations. He's got Hibs playing again. They are now taking dead aim at Hearts, only two points clear of the Hibees in fifth. They are only seven points behind Aberdeen, who occupy third place. Talk of a Europa League spot seemed far-fetched a few weeks ago but it's not totally beyond the realms of possibility now.

Heckingbottom now has 12 days to continue his good work with the squad before they travel to Livingston on March 29. Then they host Kilmarnock, before a derby at Hearts. That trio of fixtures appeared daunting a few weeks ago, but such is the atmosphere around the club right now, Hibs will approach them with some relish.

Hibs now have a lot of play for as the season enters its denouement and that is largely down to Heckingbottom. It may still be early days in his stewardship, but he's given Hibs their mojo back in a pretty short space of time, and for that he deserves immense credit.