Lee Johnson urges Hibs to 'buy credit with fans' by beating Hearts at 'theatre-style' Tynecastle
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The scenes in the away end were unsurprisingly jubilant and current Easter Road boss Lee Johnson is desperate for a performance and a result that will spark a similar outpouring of joy in the School End come Monday at ten to five.
“The derby is the next opportunity to buy credit with the fanbase, and a lot of credit. It’s another opportunity to get where we want to be in terms of the league table, and more importantly it’s a chance for us to showcase that there is an improvement to this team, that we are heading in the right direction,” he said, as he previewed the short trip across town.
“I genuinely think we can do that. We respect that Hearts have good quality – their front players are dangerous – but like all teams they have flaws and it’s up to us to expose them. It is the perfect game for momentum if we win. It completely changes the dynamic of the season. It is a massive opportunity and in that sense you have to have a cup final mentality. But I do think the players want it. They are working their socks off and while we haven’t always shown the quality we would hope, that is what we are trying to improve on and off the pitch,” he added.
Johnson is particularly keen to strengthen the bond with the fans, recognising that the team’s current run of form of two league wins in ten has resulted in a growing level of apathy in the stands. He understands that large swathes of the support are severely south of gruntled with numerous aspects of the club but remains convinced that things are going in the right direction – and has urged his team to show the fruits of their labour on the park.
“I think we have a bond [with the fans]. I think people are looking at the situation and going, ‘Is it the manager, the players, the board? But we are not a million miles away. We have got a lot to do, even in terms of internal discipline and stuff. That’s something I would like to look at in depth because I think it has been loose at times, it has been loose for too long. That’s something I haven’t been used to. I do feel we are getting our house in order, but that needs to come out on the pitch and in results.”
January will be a big month for Hibs in terms of the transfer window with expected departures and additions as Johnson continues his reshaping of the squad at his disposal. But he insisted the current squad are ‘fighting hard’ – and have simply been unlucky in some situations.
“I believe in the squad,” he added. “I know we need to add and improve, there’s no doubting that. But there is a core of good lads, people who are fighting hard for Hibs. We are competitive in every game we play, and we need to turn those little bits of misfortune into fortune and you do that through hard work and sticking with it. We might lack in certain areas but that’s where we have to develop. The ones who aren’t going to feature have to move on for their own careers and for the good of Hibs to be able to bring in new options. I haven’t had enough ‘Lee Johnson Hibs players’ here and that’s what I believe will allow us to improve and get to where we want to be. I feel like there’s a big opportunity over the next two, three, four windows to really take what we’ve already got and add the bits that we can. It’s not a small budget, it’s not a bad budget we’re working with, but it’s clogged, in my eyes. There’s got to be movement and trading, and that allows us to do the business that we want.”
In the first meeting of the current campaign between the Capital rivals, Martin Boyle climbed off the bench following a sensational return from Saudi Arabian side Al-Faisaly and netted a late equaliser to cancel out Lawrence Shankland’s opener. Hibs will be without their star man for the trip to Gorgie but Johnson is hopeful that those members of his squad who have played in the fixture before can make a difference at an imposing venue that he knows only too well.
“I think derby experience is a benefit, especially with the surroundings at Tynecastle. You almost feel like you’re underground when you play there. It is so theatre-style. It is a good place to play, but it would be a great place to win. We will be buoyed by having as many fans as we will have there and we have already been in touch with the singing section and they are fully behind us so all those factors come into it,” he explained.
“Let me tell you, as a player, the most important thing is that you don’t play the occasion, you have to play the moment, you have to play the action, and when you do that then things break for you. So you ask if we have enough experienced players to be able to cope and make an impact. I see it as a good challenge. I’m not someone who goes into things with fear. Sometimes, and I don’t want it to come across as delusional or anything like that, but this is why I came up here, for games like this, and to experience wins and performances and try to build something. Despite everybody losing their head it is about keeping that calmness and I believe in the process of what we are trying to do.”