'Teams in Scotland fight and scrap for everything' - Hibs captain sets new boys straight
Having taken a few lumps on his own path to understanding the raw and beautiful savagery of Scottish football, Joe Newell knows there are no easy short-cuts for the boys who joined Hibs during the January transfer window. But he’s absolutely adamant that they’d better learn quickly. Or suffer the consequences.
“If they didn’t know (what it was like), there you go,” said the Hibs skipper, speaking in the aftermath of Saturday’s brutal beat-down by St Mirren at Easter Road, the Englishman adding: “You are coming up against a team who are very well organised who will fight and scrap and graft for everything.
“It should be a given but that is the standard, the bare minimum that teams do up here. And if they didn’t know before there are absolutely no questions now.”
Almost five years in harness at Hibs has inured Newell against a great many things. Managerial changes being one of them; the guy has worked under five full-time gaffers in his time, so far. But it’s clear that the lifeless and spiritless nature of Saturday’s performance cut him to his core.
The central midfielder, not excusing anyone - himself included - from the criticism that inevitably follows such a heavy defeat, said: “I don’t mind if people have a bad game, I’ll have a bad game. I’ll kick the ball out of the pitch plenty of times.
“It’s the fight and desire - if someone questioned that of me, that’s what would hurt me the most. So I think (we need) to question ourselves on it. It really needs to be a turning point and discussion among ourselves. Initially my overriding feeling at the minute is that before anything else.”
The idea of a crisis summit among players – with or without coaches in attendance – has become almost a footballing cliché. It’s good to talk, etc. And there is merit to simply thrashing out a few home truths. But it has to be directed, lest it turn into a self-destructive bitching session.
“Players have had meetings in the past,” said Newell. “The manager and coaches, no matter what game it is, the result, performance - we always have a very thorough debrief. The coaches work very hard in terms of the analysis of games so that will happen first thing in the morning.
“It’s a bad day, a dreadful first half and we’re just making it so hard for ourselves at the moment. But we’ve still got a chance. If you put a couple of wins together it can look a lot different.
“We brought in a lot of quality in the window, a big turnaround, massive change. That’s no excuse in terms of bedding the players in; first half we didn’t think it was anything to do with that. We have plenty of talent and quality to turn it around coming into a huge part of the season.
“The manager? Angry, frustrated, disappointed obviously. We were miles off it, no excuses. I don’t know the reason for it, just miles off the standard required in terms of the ugly side of the game - before I even talk about quality on the ball. On the other side, I just thought we were miles away - from all of us.
“First goal was just second balls, which I thought they were on top of us all game. That’s what you expect, and it should be a given. They got 1-0 up, get a penalty, then the set-piece. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. They were brilliant, fair play to them, and I think we have a real challenge on our hands now.”
While Newell wasn’t specific about the nature of that challenge, it’s clear that simply stopping the rot is a priority. Two points from a possible 18 in the league is crisis form. Any continuation of that will be ruinous for a team who, just before Christmas, were in the hunt for third place.
With seven new players on the books, Newell and some of the other senior pros at Hibs may well have to work hard on basic team building. And emphasising a few basic facts of life when it comes to competing in an ultra-aggressive environment.
Asked if Celtic at home on Wednesday represented the perfect game for a Hibs side in need of psyching themselves up, Newell said: “Yeah, I think any game. A game a few days later is probably the best scenario because the longer you stew over that the worse it is.
“It forces your hand in covering the game, discussing among ourselves where we want wrong and trying to get back on track. Celtic is a big game here at home and hopefully it will be a good reaction. A game quite quick is the best case.”