The tweaks Hibs' Josh Campbell has made to improve his game - and how he has become a key player for Lee Johnson
Josh Campbell seems to be making a habit of scoring vital goals for Hibs.
That late winner away to St Johnstone on the opening day of the Scottish Premiership season. A late equaliser against Rangers.
The second and third goals in a 3-1 victory over Aberdeen.
It’s a tired trope but it’s not that long ago that he was starring for FC Edinburgh in League Two. It’s even more recent that supporters were questioning the decision by the club to offer him a contract extension, keeping him at the club until the summer of 2025.
That bit of business is now starting to look particularly shrewd and according to manager Lee Johnson, the ‘trustworthy’ Campbell is now one of the first names on his team sheet. On his league form so far this season, you can see just why.
Campbell has scored five goals in ten matches this season, stats of which a striker would be proud. Much of this is down to the 22-year-old, who has an admirable work ethic on the pitch and in training, but in the early days of his tenure, Johnson had already earmarked the midfielder as a key cog in the way he wants his Hibs team to play.
"I've always been told to sniff around the box for second balls – my second goal against Aberdeen came from a second ball from Myko [Kukharevych] – and I've been urged to shoot more often and I think I'm doing that,” Campbell said modestly after the Dons game.
"The gaffer’s told me to make those runs in behind teams and it'll stretch them. If I get the ball, great, but if I don't then I'm making space for someone else."
With Kyle Magennis bearing down on a return to first-team action, Campbell may be looking over his shoulder but it might just be tricky for the returning ‘Ginto’ to dislodge his team-mate from the first team.
Lee says relax
Campbell’s energy makes him well suited to Johnson’s pressing game, and the manager spent time with the boyhood Hibee at the club’s pre-season training camp in the Algarve to explain the role he had earmarked for him. After the Aberdeen game Johnson said he wanted the player to take inspiration from former England and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.
"I worked with the gaffer closely in Portugal, on what he wanted from me this season, and I think I'm showing what he asked for,” Campbell continues.
"Sometimes I get involved too much; I want to be on the ball in every area of the pitch, but the manager has told me to take a breather and play my position, and when I get the ball to touch, pass, move.
"Last season I was a bit erratic. I was young, I’d never played in the top flight before, and I just wanted to be quick and busy.
"But he's told me to relax, put my foot on it, and move on.
"That’s the first I've heard of the Lampard stuff but obviously I'd love to be like him. He was a very good player and scored a lot of goals so I'd love to try to emulate him."
Campbell claims he never sets himself targets but might five goals in ten games prompt him to change the habit of a lifetime?
"I only scored one last season and I've obviously beaten that target, but I'm just trying to be better and better every week."
Forfeits, songs, and team spirit
Named among the substitutes for the season opener at McDiarmid Park against St Johnstone before coming on to score an injury-time winner, Campbell has become one of Johnson’s trusted lieutenants; a driving force in the midfield and, evidentially, a goal threat.
There is a feeling among the players that after a forgettable Premier Sports Cup campaign, things are starting to take shape.
"We put the upheaval behind us as a team and we've moved on,” Campbell explains.
"I think we're getting a lot closer as a team. There are different activities at the training centre – forfeits if we lose games, with a bit of singing and dancing.
"I had to do a bit of singing on Friday actually when my team lost. I sang ‘Cooler Than Me’ by Mike Posner. I wasn't great, but I did it.
"But we're getting closer and I think you can see it on the pitch."
From ‘young boy’ to senior player
Campbell has been at the club for more than a decade, rising through the academy ranks to the first team. He epitomises the pathway club chiefs want their talented youngsters to take: work hard, train well, and you will get your rewards.
He is still just 22, having had his birthday as recently as May, but is he now seen as an old-timer, as he closes in on 50 first-team appearances in green and white? He can certainly tell the new signings a thing or two about playing for Hibs and everything that goes with it.
"I've always been a ‘young boy' but now I think I’m seen as a senior player. I still feel like a young guy but I've been at the club… I think this is my thirteenth year?
"So I've seen a lot of change, people coming and going, and I can tell the new boys what a club this is and what it means to everyone playing."
The victory against Aberdeen catapulted Hibs to fourth in the table, leapfrogging the Dons in the process, and although the international breaks means they don’t play again until October 1 when they make the long journey to Dingwall to face Ross County, Campbell insists the aims for the season haven’t changed – even if there is a risk of losing momentum with a full fortnight between Saturday’s win and the trip north.
"We look to be top table, third ideally. I think to stay around third and fourth would be very good for us and that's what we're aiming for,” he adds.