Paul Heckingbottom glad to have his Hibs team – but there’s still work to be done
Confronted with 11 players out of contract at the end of the season – six of them on loan – when he replaced Neil Lennon five months ago, Heckingbottom has spent this summer putting his mark on the Easter Road squad.
Seven new players have arrived, six of them – Adam Jackson, Joe Newell, Chris Doidge, Tom James, Scott Allan and Josh Vela on lengthy contracts – along with goalkeeper Chris Maxwell, signed on a season-long loan deal.
“The biggest thing for me now is that we have a lot of control over what we do,” he said on the eve of the new Premiership season, his first in charge of the capital club.
“We had 11 players out of contract when we came in, at the end of this season there will only be two.
“We’ve lowered the age of the squad, we have a better physical presence, a better balance with two players in every position. Now we have control over it. If the players do great, fantastic.
“It’s up to us what we do with them. If someone comes in for them they are under contract. If someone does not do well, it’s up to us to how we move them on and replace them. In terms of succession planning, building, we are in a strong position.
“From now on our job is to get stronger. This is a start, there’s been big changes in the squad and every window the job is to get stronger.”
Heckingbottom has made no secret of the fact he wants a side which plays with high energy and aggression and, he hopes, that is what the fans will see starting with tomorrow’s match against St Mirren.
“We have recruited to try to do that,” he said. “We want a high tempo game, energetic, quick, aggressive but you don’t know until you start working with them and get to know them. Some adapt quicker than others.
“If we are not where I want us to be in January or next summer we can keep improving. This summer was difficult because of the contract situation. There were lots of things this window you’d like to do but couldn’t.
“But we are really pleased with what we have done. We identified that problem early on but the things we could control were, ‘how much money do we have, how best can I spend it, which positions were key’ and start working on our targets and that’s what we did.”
Other than winger Martin Boyle’s injury – he’s likely to be out until the start of the new year as he awaits a second operation on his left knee – Heckingbottom insisted Hibs season so far couldn’t have gone any better, with his side reaching the last 16 of the Betfred Cup with a home tie against Championship side Morton the reward.
He said: “I have quite enjoyed this pre-season, the different nature of it, the fact we had competitive games early on even although we had a bigger picture and were looking at things other than winning games. I enjoyed it, but we have always been looking forward to the first league game.
“From a purely selfish point of view the fact the games (the Betfred Cup matches) mean something I enjoy more.
“We had targets of what we wanted to do, not just on the pitch. There were big changes, 11 out, seven in.
“We hit them all (targets), won the group, were seeded, bedded in new players, got them ready to play two games a week and understanding their roles.
“What we have got is much more competition. When we first walked through the door there were probably 12 players who could potentially start, and by the end there were probably 15 who could have played in the XI.
“There is more than that now. I would expect more impact from the bench and I would expect more impact if we change the team from game-to-game and that’s a big thing.”
Heckingbottom admitted he doesn’t know what to expect from tomorrow’s visitors with Jim Goodwin now in charge. The St Mirren manager is, however, someone he came across as a player down south.
“You would struggle to sit here and name their team,” said Heckingbottom. “They’ve made some signings and have played different shapes in the cup.
“His teams like to play football at the same time and looking at pre-seson they’ve all been different formations. It keeps us guessing.”
As a player Goodwin was recognised as being an aggressive adversary but Heckingbottom insisted he wasn’t surprised in the slightest to see the former midfielder’s sides play in the style they do.
He said: “You can be the most aggressive player in the world but it’s no reflection on your management style.
“I know John Blackley, who was here. He was aggressive when he was our defensive coach at Sheffield Wednesday. I spoke to Eddie May about him but he said ‘no, when he was manager he let us play with a freedom’.
“I couldn’t believe it. Everyone has their own style when they manage and he’ll be trying to bring that with his recruits.
“Jim had good success at Alloa and will be wanting to do exactly the same. I would have thought it will be a similar style to Alloa.”