Lee Johnson discusses his Easter Road squad dilemma - 'the Hibs shirt is a heavy shirt'

When he spoke to the media during the summer, Hibs manager Lee Johnson estimated that it would take some weeks – ten to 12 – before his squad was at full strength.

That timeframe is fast approaching and, just as the Easter Road boss predicted, a number of injured stars are starting to come into contention.

Kyle Magennis played his first match in more than a year when he came on as a late substitute in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Ross County, Kevin Dabrowski is back in training and according to Johnson Rocky Bushiri, Elias Melkersen, and Demi Mitchell are all fit and ready to go.

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It does rather beg the question of where everyone fits in but even though Johnson concedes that he would prefer a smaller squad he isn’t too unhappy at the amount of competition for places.

"People say football is a team game, which it is, but it's also very individual,” he muses.

“Naturally you want to get the edge. You're always trying to get the next contract over your midfield partner, you're always trying to play ahead of him.

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"If you're a midfielder and you see Joe Newell, Kyle Magennis, Ewan Henderson, and Harry McKirdy who can also play in that ten role, there's a lot of competition so you have to be at it.

"It's good for me as the man who picks the team because it's easy. It's a case of ‘next one in’ if you don't want to do it right. If you don't want to be professional or can't take instruction or you’re not supporting the team in the right way then no problem, the next man comes in.

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Hibs have been boosted by the return of four players to fitness

"But at the same time you want to take the attitude that the Hibs shirt is a heavy shirt, and if you perform well then you stay in the team.

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"That consistency of team selection is the basis of most good teams."

There’s a lot of juggling involved and even though Johnson isn’t complaining too much about a large pool at the moment, he recognises it will have to change soon.

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“I think we need to reduce the squad and over the next couple of windows the aim is to do that and increase the quality but it is better to start from that position of being slightly swollen because then we can use the budget well and move people out and move people in,” he continues.

What’s his ideal squad size, then?

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“About 23-24 but it depends how many utility players you have. My more successful teams have had four good centre-halves; you need two strong goalkeepers. The spine is key.”

It’s possible that there could be movement out the way in January, and Johnson agrees that players have to impress in order to avoid being shown the door.

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"Absolutely, they always do. It’s not easy being a footballer because you have that psychological battle all the time. Sometimes you’re doing well in training but somebody else has the shirt and the team is winning.

"You’re having to explain to your parents, your mates, your partner, that you’re not in the team. There are so many external factors.

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"When you have 27, 28 players and maybe only eight or nine regulars… you do the maths. It’s not easy,” he finishes.