Lewis Stevenson has been in the exact same situation time and again, but Hibs’ longest-serving player admits he’ll never lose that “first day at school” feeling of meeting a new manager for the first time.
Those self-same nerves he has had each time the man in charge has changed were there again as Paul Heckingbottom, Stevenson’s tenth boss at Easter Road, introduced himself and his assistant Robbie Stockdale before taking their first training session at East Mains.
Stevenson revealed Heckingbottom immediately put his squad at ease by being able to greet each of them by name as they met for the first time barely 12 hours after his appointment as Neil Lennon’s successor was announced.
He said: “I don’t think it’s any easier whether it’s your tenth manager or your second, you never know how things are going to be, whether you are going to be in his plans or not.
“It’s a bit like that first day at school, everyone excited but a bit nervous. But we had a meeting early doors yesterday and he settled us all down. We were a bit surprised he knew everyone by name but, I’d imagine, he’ll have been doing his homework over the last few days.
“The one thing I have learned, though, is you can’t try to be someone you are not. If it works out for you, it will work out. You have to just do your job to the best of your ability, train as hard as you can every day in training, do your best in every match and if that is good enough for what he wants then I am sure you will be part of his plans.”
Heckingbottom’s arrival ended a near two-week search with the past few days a maelstrom of activity with Paul Appleton appearing to have emerged as favourite for the job before talks stalled and the former Barnsley and Leeds United boss was appointed on a three-and-a-half year contract.
Stevenson said: “It’s nice to have that bit of uncertainty gone. As players you just need to adapt to the situation. We had a lot of games which helped us, all we had to do was focus on preparing for each of them. Eddie May and Grant Murray did a great job and everyone was right behind them.
“But looking long term it’s good for everyone that there’s a clear direction going forward.”
Heckingbottom will, undoubtedly, look to bring his own thoughts to bear in time but, revealed Stevenson, he’s intent on not changing things too quickly.
Stevenson, however, believes the fact the new head coach likes to see his teams play on the front foot, to press, be aggressive, to win the ball high up the pitch and play forward will appeal hugely not only to the Easter Road support but the players themselves.
He said: “Our fans want to see fast-flowing, attractive and entertaining football that wins games. And I think we have been at our best in recent seasons playing that way. It’s been exciting to watch and we’ve been successful. So hopefully that will be the case.”
While the next few days and weeks will be a case of “getting to know you” from both sides, Hibs midfielder Stevie Mallan is a familiar face to Heckingbottom having played for him at Barnsley.
“I’ve felt a bit sorry for Stevie,” confessed Stevenson. “He must have had a thousand questions fired at him with everyone asking him bits and bobs about the new manager. I think he was getting a bit fed up with it all – but he had nothing but good things to say.
“And first impressions were very good. He said a few words and then it was straight out for training with him and Robbie, some tactical stuff, not too much different.”
Not surprisingly, a top-six finish is the priority, a target that hasn’t changed and one which remains achievable although everyone recognises the challenge that lies ahead before the split.
“He said there is still lots to play for this season,” said Stevenson. “He wants to get up and running straight away, we don’t want the season to end on a whimper – we want to make the most of the games that remain.”
Hibs’ bid to catch Motherwell and St Johnstone begins with the visit of Hamilton tomorrow and, agreed Stevenson, Easter Road fans will be hoping to see the same “bounce” struggling Accies have enjoyed since Brian Rice replaced Martin Canning at the helm.
Accies have taken four points out of six since ex-Hibs midfielder Rice took charge, helping to ease their relegation worries a little, and he watched his old club defeat Raith Rovers at Easter Road to claim a Scottish Cup quarter-final clash at home to Celtic next month, a result which Stevenson believes has helped restore some confidence.
He said: “Brian was a great coach when he was here, he knows the game inside out and he seems to want Hamilton playing a more attack-minded game. For us, it was important to get that win over Raith after two defeats. We played well in spells, scored three and created chances for more.”