Why Ivan Sproule is backing Lee Johnson to turn things around at Hibs
If there is one thing Ivan Sproule knows inside out, it is the weight of expectation that comes with playing for Hibs, and the inevitable highs and lows.
He played a big part in the swashbuckling side of the mid-2000s, netting a memorable hat-trick at Rangers, helping knock the same team out of the Scottish Cup – again at Ibrox – and contributing to the League Cup win in 2007.
But he also experienced the bleakness of a Scottish Cup final defeat by rivals Hearts and, later in his second stint at Easter Road, the ignominy of falling out of favour at the club he loved.
"I am sorry to leave Hibs but for the rest of my life I'll bleed green and white blood,” he said after his departure, which might explain why he was literally playing with a smile on his face when he featured in last weekend’s Hanlon Stevenson Foundation charity match.
Sproule retains more than an affinity for the Capital club and is keeping a closer eye than ever on proceedings at Albion Place after the arrival of two close friends in the dugout.
“I played four years with Lee Johnson and Jamie McAllister at Bristol City so I know them well. Hibs are going through a difficult period at the minute and it’s something they’re going to have to get themselves out of after the World Cup,” Sproule said, speaking after last Sunday’s charity game.
Sproule shared a pitch with the pair 95 times during his time with the Robins and remained close with both men as they continued their careers and eventually hung up their respective boots and entered the coaching world.
“They are positive, strong boys who have the character to get out of this period. They have been on the wrong end of some fine margins in games but we all know football, you’re judged on one thing at five o’clock on a Saturday and that’s winning,” he continued.
“They have a group of players who need to stand up and take responsibility. I’m not knocking the players who are here – I’ve been in that dressing-room at Hibs when things aren’t going well myself – but you have to take responsibility and get yourself out of it. Lee and Jamie have both been around football long enough to understand that, so they will know the next run of games [against Rangers, Celtic, Livingston, and Hearts] is massive for them. They have the characteristics to turn it around, but they also need the players to make it happen. You need leaders on the pitch, everyone pulling together.”
There are older heads in the Easter Road first team – David Marshall and Aiden McGeady the elder statesmen along with player-coach Darren McGregor, while friends and former team-mates Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson can also count on years of experience, and Sproule believes that is key.
"Sometimes it takes that older head to put their foot on the ball, take a breath, and get the best out of the players around them. It’s also about managing the changing room at times. If you have a few players who can deal with the pressure, which is always there when you play for Hibs, then it makes it easier for everyone,” he added.