Lessons to be learned as Hibs recover from Rangers rout

Hibs came off worst in their head-on collision with Rangers Hibs came off worst in their head-on collision with Rangers
Hibs came off worst in their head-on collision with Rangers
Second Old Firm challenge in space of week offers chance to bounce back

Saturday’s visit of Celtic either can’t come quickly enough – or is to be dreaded like the arrival of hostile invaders from another dimension. All depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?

As he seeks a balance between fixing the flaws exposed at Ibrox and shielding his players from a sort of footballing post-traumatic stress disorder, Nick Montgomery will hardly be short of raw study material.

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Hibs were given an absolute doing in Glasgow yesterday. Nothing they tried came off, at least not well enough to hurt a Rangers side buoyed by the arrival of new manager Philippe Clement.

The prospect of Brendan Rodgers bringing his league leaders to Easter Road this weekend, then, represents both a brilliant chance to bounce back quickly in one of the showpiece fixtures on the domestic calendar – and a threat to the momentum so carefully gathered since Montgomery’s arrival last month.

With that game in Edinburgh looming large, what will events in Govan have taught the new boss?

This is very much a two-tier league

There is an enormous gap in quality, borne of financial inequality, between the Big Two and everyone else in Scotland’s elite division. That’s been true since long before the Scottish Premiership, in its current SPFL-approved shape and form, was even an idea on a marketing man’s mood board.

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Most teams go to Ibrox and lose. A majority also lose their home games against both Rangers and Celtic, more often than not.

As bullish as he might have been about his team’s chances in the build-up to Saturday, Montgomery added one note of caution to everything he said about Rangers – by mentioning the talent and ability available to Clement.

It’s not until you take a team into the lions’ den, however, that the scale of the quality gap becomes truly apparent. This mauling represents a teachable moment for the new gaffer.

The new boss bounce is real

Montgomery and Hibs benefited from his arrival during the September international break, embarking on a five-game unbeaten run brought to an abrupt end by a Rangers side who chose the October window as an opportune moment to put the first team under new management.

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Any gaffer under pressure heading into next month’s Euro 2024-enforced hiatus will be cursing both Monty and Clement for proving that, yes, it is possible for even a struggling team to turn things around simply because the identity of the head coach has changed. Because, while Rangers were far from brilliant for most of this game, they were effective.

It might be time to shuffle the pack

The new coaching team have been pretty consistent in their selections so far, tinkering around the edges while retaining the core of their starting XI – David Marshall, Will Fish, Lewis Miller, Joe Newell, Martin Boyle and Dylan Vente – regardless of opponent or circumstance. Could that change now?

Dylan Levitt’s 30-minute cameo at Ibrox began with his very first touch of the game, a raking one-timer of a pass that picked out a team-mate in a dangerous position in the Rangers box. That sort of quality might not be kept in reserve much longer.

The back four needs some work

Part of the pre-match warm-up at Ibrox involved the back four working as a unit, alternately heading or clearing balls thrown at them by a coach. Clearly intended to foster cohesion and sharpen up their positioning, the message behind the refresher session was lost a bit once Rangers started motoring.

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Montgomery and his coaches have a full week to put things right.

Speaking of big weeks …

Celtic at home on Saturday, Ross County at Easter Road next Tuesday night, then Aberdeen in the Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden on Saturday week. Three games in the space of eight days that could go a long way to setting the mood music for Hibs heading into the closing weeks of 2023.

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