Lee Johnson reveals tactical input from nan as Hibs boss reflects on Portugal trip and new signings

While Lee Johnson was directing his Hibs squad through a useful pre-season friendly against Hartlepool United earlier this week, his backroom staff were also offering advice to players and discussing the match with the Easter Road boss.

But there was further input into the game from a rather unlikely source. It wasn’t unusual for Hibs to have a coach in the stand last season to provide an alternative view of fixtures but never an octogenarian analyst.

Yet that’s what happened as Hibs saw off Pools by two goals to nil in the heat of the Algarve. Watching the livestream from her Portishead home was none other than Johnson’s Nan, Janette.

Hide Ad

Still going strong at 83 – ‘she looks 71, 72 and still does the dancing and plays tennis’, says Johnson – the Lennoxtown native was a keen spectator as goals from Ewan Henderson and Ryan Porteous ensured victory over Paul Hartley’s side.

Hailing her as a ‘bit of an icon in terms of her generation’, Johnson reveals she sent a text message during the game with some advice.

"She is relentless. She watched the Hartlepool game on YouTube and was sending me tactical points by text.

Hide Ad

"She wrote: "All players were excellent, definitely showed your style of play and a dominant performance.

"You need to get [Jair] Tavares pressing the centre-halves. Never thought they would catch him though, very quick; midfielders and defenders trying to score."Very hot so make sure the boys have got their fluids." She's not wrong, is she?"

Hide Ad
Lee Johnson reflected on Hibs' summer training camp in Portugal

He laughs as he puts his phone down, adding: “She makes me chuckle. I try to teach her all the tactical stuff – she loves her tennis, but she'll come up for the Hearts game.”

Hide Ad

Johnson was happy overall with what he saw from both teams that he played against Pools.

“I’d have liked a few more goals for the dominance. We lacked a bit of quality where the lads were heavy-legged. I’m hoping that last little bit of sharpness comes through pretty quickly, just so they feel good about themselves going into the season.

Hide Ad

"We’ve had a nice balance, a bit of psychology, a bit of bonding. We’ve got a golf half-day planned.

Johnson has brought in eight new signings but admitted some of them had been difficult to get over the line
Hide Ad

"It’s so important to accentuate the characters of the younger players and to get that hierarchical structure a little bit more spread and promote leaders. We’ll try and get a good night out and the boys will have their initiation songs at a karaoke club so I’ll be looking forward to hearing a few of them.”

Dad Gary, currently manager at Yeovil Town, is expected to be up for the Hearts game along with Johnson’s Nan and other members of his family, but Johnson is reluctant to lean too heavily on his old man, despite his extensive management experience.

Hide Ad

"I suppose in times of crisis I might, when you want that check and balance, when you can't see the wood for the trees - 'am I getting this wrong?' - because I never think my perception of a situation is the same as everyone else's,” he explains.

"I'll use him; Brian Marwood is always brilliant with me too, Kenny Dalglish as well is great as a sounding board, Dan Ashworth... I do use those guys, I draw on that knowledge if I think it's wise and in the end it benefits the situation which then hopefully benefits Hibs as a whole.

Hide Ad
Johnson, left, with father Gary when Oldham Athletic met Yeovil Town in 2013

"There's been a couple of times [I faced my dad as opposing managers] but it was difficult really. We were in a relegation battle and they were going for promotion, and I think they were second in the league.

Hide Ad

"They ended up winning the play-offs so it was fine but we needed the win to get out of trouble, and there were only three or four games left of the season. We managed to beat them 2-0 but I swear I heard him celebrating our second goal, that parental instinct kicked in!

"It was mostly difficult for him. I just wanted to beat him, I didn't care, I was ruthless, but in the end they got promotion, we stayed up, and two years later they came down and they were in a relegation battle and we were going for promotion and beat us 4-1, so it was almost like we were chucking it to get each other out of trouble, but we weren't."

Hide Ad

Before heading home, Johnson is keen to do more bonding with the squad.

"We periodise all that. We make sure it starts with tactical periodisation, physical, technical, psychological, social, wives’ social.

Hide Ad

"There are layers and layers and layers and I think it’s important. The lads have got to have something to look forward to.

"There’s a lot of pressure. You talk about the goldfish bowl Scotland can be in terms of the media, big games, you’re in and around the city.

Hide Ad

"Sometimes they need that release. It doesn’t have to be drinking. It can be go-karting, paintball; something where they don’t have to be footballers for the day.

"They can enjoy themselves. The club has been brilliant. This trip isn’t cheap. To be in a warm-weather climate with quality food and the services, the training and the boy’s apartments – the club should get a lot of credit for it.”

Hide Ad

Seven of the club’s eight new signings featured in the two pre-season games, with Momodou Bojang the only summer recruit yet to make his bow in green and white.

Johnson is still hopeful of adding one or two more, with a centre-back and another attacker high on his wishlist, but is broadly pleased with getting transfers done and dusted early on.

Hide Ad

"They’ve been really difficult ones as well, not easy at all – work permits, visas, biometric testing so these guys can get the stamp on their visa.

“We do our due diligence on the guys to make sure they are good characters, and find out if they can cope.”