Why Hibs are in grave danger of being rock bottom for October international break
Almost six years ago, Hibs lost at home to a bottom-of-the-table Hearts team and a small group of supporters gathered outside Easter Road’s main entrance to call for the removal of the manager.
Within 48 hours of that 1-0 defeat to their city rivals, in a League Cup quarter-final in October 2013, Pat Fenlon departed his post.
It seems unlikely that the same fate will befall Paul Heckingbottom in the coming days, but things are certainly looking ominous for the Yorkshireman who now appears to have completely lost the faith of the Hibs support. After another unconvincing display at home to Hearts brought a third successive league defeat and left the Easter Road side languishing 11th in the Premiership table, a small but vocal band of supporters stood outside the West Stand to vent their displeasure.
Prior to this, several Hibs fans had left the stadium before the end of their derby defeat, unable to see a way back for their team after Aaron Hickey’s deflected strike gave Hearts the lead. Those who remained booed the team off at the end, while a minority in the upper tier of the Famous Five Stand had briefly chanted during the match for Heckingbottom to go. Losing at home to a Hearts side who had previously failed to win a league game for almost six months counted as the ultimate ignominy for Hibs’ increasingly exasperated support.
It is hard to imagine that the club’s hierarchy, who have previously made all the right noises in terms of backing Heckingbottom for the long term, would be of a mind to wield the axe in the next couple of days, with a critical Betfred Cup quarter-final away to Kilmarnock looming on Wednesday, but the manager is clearly feeling the heat. It wasn’t until almost an hour after full-time against Hearts that he arrived to face the media as he took some time to compose himself following what was a shattering defeat. There is no respite for Heckingbottom, with the trip to Rugby Park, where his team lost 2-0 in the league a week past Saturday, followed by a Premiership game at home to Celtic this Saturday and then a trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen a week later.
Bearing in mind that Heckingbottom is yet to win against any of last season’s top four - Celtic, Rangers, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen - in nine attempts so far, it is hard to envisage Hibs, in their current beleaguered state, having much joy over the course of their upcoming triple-header. Indeed, all going to form, there is every chance they will be out of the Betfred Cup and sitting rock bottom of the Premiership by the time of the October international break, with St Johnstone, who are a point beneath them at the foot of the table, facing slightly more favourable fixtures against Motherwell and Ross County.
Such a scenario doesn’t bear thinking about for a support still scarred by the aforementioned 2013/14 campaign, when they eventually plummeted towards relegation under Fenlon’s successor, Terry Butcher. Worryingly for Heckingbottom, his reign - rightly or wrongly - has now entered a phase where he is being compared to the likes of Fenlon, Butcher and another man who presided over grim times in Leith in the early part of this decade, Colin Calderwood.
After the dramatic turnaround in the latest staging of the Edinburgh derby, the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager has probably now overtaken Levein - who looked doomed last week - as the likeliest Premiership manager to be removed from their job in the coming weeks. Indeed, perhaps the only source of inspiration for Heckingbottom to be drawn from his team’s latest defeat was the way his Hearts counterpart managed to go from having the entire stadium - both Hibs and Hearts fans in unison - singing, just after Stevie Mallan’s wonder striker, that he was “getting sacked in the morning” to a position whereby he was wandering triumphantly around the pitch at full-time, punching the air and revelling in potentially one of his most crucial victories as a manager. Heckingbottom, with his own back now firmly against the wall, is in desperate need of a similar tide-turning victory in what currently looks like a formidable fortnight.