'Tempers flared' - inside the team meeting aimed at saving Hibs season
By his own admission, Nick Montgomery did more shouting than talking. And at least one Hibs player has testified that “tempers flared” in a post-mortem focusing on some brutal home truths. All part of grown-up football, for good or for ill.
The result of tomorrow night’s home game against Celtic will not provide definitive proof on the efficacy of a Monday morning analysis session aimed at examining Saturday’s horrific home loss to St Mirren. But the performance of the hosts, their appetite for doing the destructive side of the game in particular, will tell the Easter Road crowd whether this bunch are worth the jersey.
Asked if the usual video meeting with the squad had involved a bit of back-and-forth, rather than the players simply listening to their manager do most of the talking, Monty admitted: “I wouldn’t say talking. I’d probably say a little bit more shouting.
“I’m a passionate guy, I wear my heart on my sleeve and if anyone knew me as a player or manager then I’m a competitor. The number one thing in this league is you have to compete. It’s a physical league and you have to compete first and foremost.
“Yes, we have quality players but, if you don’t match the opposition for fight and you give poor goals away, it’s going to be difficult. It’s a learning curve for the new boys coming in - and those that have been here a while as well.”
Martin Boyle, who missed the St Mirren game but made it home from the Asian Cup in time to sit in on the debrief, pulled something halfway between a grin and a grimace when asked about the mood in the room as Monty laid bare his frustration over a lack of effort, the Socceroos star saying: “A lot like you imagine! It wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t really have much of a say because I didn’t participate in the game. I was kind of just a spectator.
“Tempers flared a little bit but that’s good, you have to have those conversations and get them out. And as soon as you step out of this building it is time to go again.
“I’ve been in a lot of meetings like that down the years and you just have to take it on the chin. You have to nullify the mistakes we made. The performance was unacceptable, they all pretty much took that on the chin - and they know.
“You watch the video, and you listen and there’s a few comments at the end, it’s an open floor. Sometimes it can go great, sometimes it can turn, but that’s football. We have to turn the corner.”
Saturday’s 3-0 home loss meant Hibs have taken just two of the 18 points available from their last six Scottish Premiership fixtures. The last time they won a league game was on December 9, when they beat Livingston – now isolated at the foot of the table – by a single Boyle goal at Almondvale. By any criteria, they’re in crisis.
Asked to expand on his key message to players in every session, every meeting, every set-piece defending drill (surely half a dozen, at least) since Saturday, Montgomery said simply: “That it can’t happen again. It was a performance I didn’t expect. and I don’t think anyone expected. There was a lot of optimism with the new players coming in.
“Now it’s a case of gelling the boys together and integrating them into the way we play, the principles we have and understanding the club. It was a real flat performance.
“We owned it, I owned it. The boys weren’t happy with it. As a footballer you accept criticism. You’re in a position where fans pay their money to watch, and the minimum requirement is that you put the effort in and show a bit more desire than we did.
“It’s a criticism, constructive feedback that the boys accepted at half time, after the game and when we reviewed it back. We spoke about it, and I think most teams go through a flat performance like that at some point in the season. What you can’t do is dwell on it. You have to move forward. It’s up to me to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“All three goals we conceded were avoidable, set pieces, second phases, that’s something we spoke about - and it can’t happen again. We can’t chase games and give goals away like that.”
Boyle and Lewis Miller are both likely to start, despite the latter bowing out of the Asian Cup on the sort of personal low that would knock anyone’s confidence, Montgomery declaring: “We have missed Lewis, his height and power. We conceded goals in that back post area against Kilmarnock where, if Lewis is playing, I know we don’t concede them.
“You’re going to miss your first-choice players. Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of starting players missing over the last six weeks. You can’t control that; you want players in international teams. It’s good for the club, good for their value, but it also hurts you.
“When these tournaments come mid-season it’s a challenge but it’s an opportunity for others to come in and we’ve had a lot of young players debut which is only going to be good for the club moving forward and their experience.”
On the possibility of wholesale changes to the starting XI, Montgomery said: “There might be one or two changes that are enforced but I’ve said it loads of times: when you take three, four, five starting players out of the team, what you want is them back fit and available.
“Lewis Miller and Martin Boyle are in contention to start the game because they came back a couple of days ago and they’ve had a little bit of time to recover and they’re desperate to get back out there and put the Hibs shirt on - but it also gives us some good competition for places off the bench and that’s something that we really lacked up until the last week.
“I thought Nathan (Moriah-Welsh) was outstanding when he came on at the weekend. I had thought about starting him but when you’re only in training for a couple of days, it’s a big ask to start somebody but he’s a kid who has infection energy. Nathan is definitely in contention to start against Celtic.”
With Paul Hanlon looking to recover from illness, Nectar Triantis could start despite looking lost in a whirlwind first 45 minutes in Scottish football, Montgomery explaining: “Nectar is a great kid; he shows good resilience - and the fact is, he wouldn’t have started but Paul Hanlon felt sick, and I had to make changes. Unfortunately for Paul, he has an illness that keeps coming and going at the minute.
“It wasn’t ideal to bring a kid up the day before and start him in his first game but Nectar’s good, he’s had a couple of days of training. He’ll bounce back and be ready for Celtic.”