Lee Johnson issues stark warning to Hibs players over 'mediocre performances' and opens up on work permit frustrations
‘I was pretty vexed’, Lee Johnson says when reflecting on Tuesday night’s defeat by Falkirk, although he acknowledges what went wrong and how to go about fixing it.
Aidan Nesbitt’s header shortly before the interval gave the Bairns all three points despite the Capital club dominating the second 45 and the Easter Road boss admits he learned a lot about his players, and what not to do the next time.
A trip to Bonnyrigg Rose, the SPFL new boys, is a potential banana-skin of a cup meeting. Robbie Horn’s side have already seen off Clyde and Johnson knows his side will have to be on it from the first whistle to avoid a re-run of the Falkirk fiasco.
"We should have won that game quite comfortably with the chances we had but it was too little, too late as we didn't give ourselves enough minutes and enough space to capitalise given the fact that they had something to get hold of.
"I'm learning a lot, quickly. I'm learning about the level, I'm learning about my players, I'm learning about the partnerships, the opposition."
Speaking of learning about his players, Johnson made four changes at the interval in a bid to turn the game in Hibs’ favour. Call it ruthless, call it tactics, or call it a Hail Mary play, but it certainly sent a message to his squad.
"It showed an element of intent, and it without doubt improved the second half,” he offers.
"Decisions have to be made to win football matches. Once the players cross the white line it's up to them.
"They know what we're after and we didn't do enough, simple as that.
"Although we like to think we're a club that gives opportunity, unfortunately the lads have got to win football matches and you can very quickly find yourself out of the fray with one or two average to mediocre performances."
It’s not just about throwing players under the bus, though. Johnson holds his hands up for his own errors.
"When you watch the video back, it's never as good as you think, and never as bad as you think,” he laughs.
"You might think, 'oh we smashed that team today, gave them nothing' – like we did against Clyde – but you go back and watch the clips and realise that, actually, there were five or six things that were miles off it, and vice-versa.
"Against Falkirk it was just minor details in the first half where we created the overload.
"Were the partnerships right, did we have the right balance of age, demographic? All those things in the team selection for the Falkirk game were wrong, and that's on me.
"But the players have got to step over the line and bring their best or, unfortunately, Hibs is not the place for them."
Things might be easier for Johnson if he had all his players available. He is without four players through injury – Paul Hanlon, Kyle Magennis, Demetri Mitchell, and Kevin Nisbet – and concedes that frustration over the delay with work permits is starting to set in.
"I couldn't hang my hat on having them all available for the start of the season because I just don't know the variations in the timings of the Home Offices involved,” he sighs.
"I trust our end, because they will fast-track it as much as they can but someone sat in Gambia, France, Portugal… they don't care, do they? They're not going to move them to the top of the list!
"It has started to worry me a little bit, but only because I want the options and that's from a selfish point of view. I want the depth and the options but I want the depth that's ready tactically, physically, and mentally.
"I don't think you'll be able to see the true 'us' until ten or 12 games in because that won't be ready.
"It doesn't mean we can't win football matches, by the way, and most clubs will be experiencing this in their own way."
Despite accepting that it might take time for Hibs to show what they are really capable of, Johnson remains relaxed about his options in the immediate future.
"I've got a strong belief in the squad we're building. I suppose my frustration is not being able to fast-track that team-building process. That's the bit that's just starting to niggle.
"Time's running out on me a little bit in that someone who would probably be in my starting XI in my mind's eye, can no longer be in the starting XI for the first game due to unforeseen circumstances.
"I think it will be four or five games into the season before we start seeing the fruits of our labour because everybody is on a different journey here.”
Highlighting three players, Johnson explained the various issues he is juggling as the start of the league campaign edges closer.
"Aiden McGeady had six months out, he then didn't do the first week, then had nine days training on the spin, then missed four days,” he says.
"Josh Campbell hasn't missed a day, had a great off-season, is super-fit anyway, and he's ready to go.
"Élie Youan came across to Portugal, did well and got some good work, then had to go back to France to deal with a passport situation and only came back to the country two or three days ago.
"So it's like a Rubik's cube at the moment trying to fit everyone in and getting everyone to their peak but I'm grateful to have a really good staff who have that laser focus so I can delegate one group of players to one department, which we're trying to do.
"I'm confident that we're controlling the controllables to the maximum. I'm very confident that we're moving towards a very good place.
"I just wish we could rewind time four or five weeks and have everybody in."