Unpacking Hibs boss Lee Johnson's post-St Mirren comments - and what he might have meant
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Speaking afterwards to the media he apologised for taking so long to emerge, but throughout his post-match comments his words were laced with deeper meaning than the usual management-speak clichés. Previously the Easter Road boss has likened his players to toddlers making cups of tea, and even after the last-gasp 2-2 draw with Rangers declared he wasn’t happy.
But in Paisley the wry smiles and self-confessed clumsy analogies were gone, to be replaced by spiky comments and somewhat pointed references.
Here’s a more in-depth look at some of Johnson’s statements.
‘Unfortunately… we just did not have the quality entering the final third’
This comment towards the beginning of his reaction is pretty self-explanatory but the crucial point is the use of ‘entering’, suggesting that the manager was pointing the finger at the midfielders and to a lesser extent, the full-backs.
Johnson has talked in more positive terms about his options in attack, praising Martin Boyle’s contribution and what Élie Youan brings to the table, but appeared less than enamoured by the performance of his players in the middle of the park in the St Mirren defeat.
‘It does seem that there’s a little bit of a pattern repeating with this side, and this club’
This was one of Johnson’s more ominous remarks, and can be traced back to Hibs’ problems under Shaun Maloney: keeping the ball well box to box but not taking advantage of chances in the area, which was a constant feature under the former Belgium No.2.
Given Johnson’s previous references to getting in the SAS, Red Arrows pilots, and highly-trained marksmen, it seems safe to assume that he has identified issues with either individuals’, or the collective mindset at the club.
‘There were certain elements of the game that, tactically, worked for us’
This comment suggested that while the result was a negative one, Johnson knew what had gone wrong – and that it can be perhaps fixed by personnel changes, rather than requiring a tactical overhaul. Expanding, he explained: “I’ve got to be very careful what I say because the fans will be very disappointed in our performance, as am I [but] we did move from box to box, in spells, quite slickly.
"But at the same time we let the opposition off the hook far too many times, and most of our attacks ended up fizzling out.”
As with most Hibs performances under Johnson, there were elements of positive play but not enough.
‘Good players make good decisions but for whatever reason we didn’t have enough good decision-makers on the pitch today’
This was one of Johnson’s most damning remarks from his post-match press conference, either chiding players who would normally make good decisions for not doing so or, more worryingly, that the players at his disposal aren’t capable of making good decisions.
This could refer to passing choices, when a cross was played into the box, or dealing with defensive situations. It may even have been a bit of a message to the board ahead of Thursday’s transfer deadline.
‘There is no question in my mind what we need to do [and] how we need to do it’
This line appears to speak for itself but it depends if Johnson meant ‘we’ the coaching staff, ‘we’ the staff and players’, or ‘we’ the football club.
It also depends if he is talking tactical changes, personnel changes, or something else.
But it appeared to be a message to the fans that he knows what went wrong and what to do to fix it.
‘We're not going to be able to move much in the market so we've got to nurture the ones coming back to full fitness’
It’s probably sensible to apply a large helping of salt to the bulk of what most football managers say in the week leading up to a a transfer deadline day but even if we take this at face value, it’s clear that Johnson is pinning at least some hopes on the players coming back from injury.
The obvious individuals are Kevin Nisbet for a different dimension in the final third, Kyle Magennis to refresh the midfield, and Aiden McGeady for a bit of experience and trickery in the wide areas.
‘The positive moments we have build momentum and team spirit. Every negative resets the rules. We have to make sure we drive it forward’
This appears to be another nod to mentality or mindset. Is Johnson insinuating that his team needs to make more of the positive moments?
There was more than a hint of frustration in his tone of voice when he said ‘every negative resets the rules’ and he appeared to be a tad bemused as to why his players don’t seem to want to create more positive moments. The use of ‘we’ suggests he has identified area or areas where the first team – staff and players – can improve in terms of making the most of positive results.
‘We are going to get stick, we deserve to own that today. Myself more than anybody else, because I pick the team’
Shades of Brian Clough during his Nottingham Forest tenure, when he poked his head around the changing room door at half-time with the team 2-0 down after a poor first half and said, ‘Sorry lads, my fault, picked the wrong team’ or words to that effect and then disappeared.
Johnson said more than once during his post-match review that he had to ‘own’ the defeat and apologised to the fans. It’s very possible that he may have been directly referring to his midfield selection, or his team in general. There were no first-half substitutions this time around but you’d imagine Johnson wouldn’t have picked the same starting XI if given the chance of a do-over.
Hibs host Kilmarnock on Saturday and face a team in a positive mood after a come-from-behind victory – their first of the campaign – last weekend against Motherwell. Derek McInnes is a wily manager and one who has a good few victories at Easter Road under his belt.
Granted he will be coming up against a different manager, and Hibs enjoyed injury-time equalisers against Hearts and Rangers in both their home games so far, but it will be interesting to hear what Johnson says in his pre-match press conference later this week.
Jamie McAllister took over media duties before the St Mirren clash but Johnson is expected to return to preview Killie – and with nearly a week to mull over events in Paisley, could well have some interesting points to make.
Whether or not that might include discussion of transfer ins and outs remains to be seen.