Why derby outcome will heavily influence early perceptions of Jack Ross’s Hibs reign
After a mixed start in terms of results, Tynecastle showdown will dictate the winter-break vibe at Easter Road
After back-to-back defeats from fixtures against both members of the Old Firm, Thursday’s Edinburgh derby is now crucial to Jack Ross’s hopes of restoring optimism among Hibs’ support ahead of the winter break.
Following a bright start to the new manager’s tenure which brought two wins and a draw from his opening three games, three defeats in the subsequent four matches have served to remove the wind from the Easter Road side’s sails. Friday’s abject 3-0 loss at home to Rangers - in which two of the team’s most highly-regarded players (Ofir Marciano and Ryan Porteous) were especially culpable - was particularly demoralising for a fanbase who were convinced their team were well on their way to turning the corner under Ross following the grim reign of Paul Heckingbottom.
While the Ibrox side are presently a formidable opponent under Steven Gerrard, Hibs have generally been competitive at home to both Glasgow sides in recent seasons, even under the much-maligned Heckingbottom. Only once in their previous 12 home games against either Celtic or Rangers had Hibs lost by more than one goal; that was when the Parkhead side triumphed 2-0 in Leith in a Scottish Cup tie in March.
Friday’s match was the type of one-sided away win for one of the Glasgow sides not seen at Easter Road since Hibs’ pre-relegation days. It served as a notable reminder that Ross, for all the promise his team showed in recent home wins against Motherwell and Aberdeen and even in the home draw with Kilmarnock, still has plenty work to do if he is to get Hibs back on the upward trajectory that took them from the relegation zone to sixth in the Premiership during his opening weeks in charge. After Livingston’s win over Ross County this weekend, Hibs will now spend Christmas Day back in the bottom six, albeit only by goal difference.
In an intense environment where perceptions of individuals are formed quickly, as predecessor Heckingbottom found out when his own promising start soon gave way to a lengthy period of difficulty, Ross could do with a win - or at very worst a draw - from Thursday’s Edinburgh derby to prevent any early-reign negativity seeping in from the stands. With three wins and three defeats from his seven games in charge, a victory in Gorgie - piling on the misery for bottom-of-the-table Hearts and extending the gap between these two bitter city rivals to 13 points - would swiftly restore the feelgood factor among Hibs’ supporters and dispel any notion that the early victories under Ross may have simply been down to the “bounce” teams often get when they change managers.
By the same token, however, defeat at a venue where Heckingbottom won on his only visit back in April would be damaging to Ross’s stock level in the eyes of some supporters, even at this early stage in his reign.
While they still have one further fixture to play before the break, the effect of next Sunday’s year-ending trip to Livingston will pale in significance compared to whatever has occurred in Gorgie a few days earlier. With the impending three-week hiatus representing a natural period of mid-season assessment for all clubs, managers and players, this Thursday’s Edinburgh derby will play a major part in shaping the early impressions of Ross as Hibs manager and dictating the winter-break vibe at Easter Road.