Hibs start 2022 with a clean slate under a new manager


Ian Colquhoun

EDINBURGH’S Green and White have played just four matches since our last column, yet so much has happened at Easter Road since that 1-1 draw with St Mirren in early November.

A mediocre manager has been and gone, a club legend has led the side into a cup final and one of Scotland’s hottest managerial prospects has taken over the Hibee hot-seat.

Covid-19 may have curtailed fixtures yet Hibs fans will rightly say that the last few weeks certainly haven’t been boring, to say the least.

On November 14, Hibs got the better of Dundee in a midweek league match at Easter Road, winning 1-0, courtesy of a Dees own-goal. Thus the great David Gray and his assistant Eddie May got the first victory of their temporary spell in charge of the team.

Gray and May then led Hibernian to Hampden to take on Celtic in the League Cup Final.

The Hibees matched Celtic well at Hampden and actually made it to the interval at 0-0—something very rare for Hibernian against the Hoops in big cup matches. The Hibees even took the lead, briefly, Paul Hanlon scoring in front of the Hibs fans, only for Kyogo Furahashi to equalise for Celtic 60 seconds later, while the Hibee faithful were still celebrating. The Japanese star was the only real difference between the sides on the day and it was he who scored again to ultimately give the Celts a 2-1 victory.

Things could have been very different had Paul Hanlon not missed a late sitter and if referee John Beaton had given the Hibees what looked like a stonewall penalty near the end.

Hibernian could leave the national stadium with their heads held high, after matching Celtic well for 90 minutes. There was no real ‘Hampden misery’ for the Hibs fans, this time, unlike in the double defeats there to St Johnstone and the embarrassing loss to Hearts in late 2020. David Gray and Eddie May deserve great credit for that.

Hibs bounced back from the cup final defeat to beat Aberdeen at Easter Road three days later, winning 1-0 with a goal by Ryan Porteous. Boxing Day brought a fine 3-1 win over Dundee United at Tannadice—a match in which Chris Cadden, Kevin Nisbet and Jamie Murphy scored. Those two wins saw the managerial debut of new Hibernian manager, Shaun Maloney.

Maloney’s appointment surprised many Hibs fans yet pleased all—it’s just the type of ‘bang on’ managerial appointment that Hibs make from time to time that both unites and excites the fans. As well as his distinguished playing career in Scotland, England and at international level, Maloney was a youth coach at Celtic and his last job was as Roberto Martinez’s assistant with the Belgian national side, coaching some of the world’s finest players.

Shaun may lack experience as a standalone manager, yet the first two matches Hibs have played and won under his command have already shown that though inexperienced, Maloney is no rookie.

In any case, inexperienced or ‘Rookie’ managers in the past have served Hibs well—Tony Mowbray’s time at Easter Road is fondly remembered and club legend John Collins won a trophy with Hibernian, in his first management job.

The new manager has brought in defender Harry Clarke from Arsenal, midfielder Ewan Henderson from Celtic and highly-rated Norwegian striker Elias Henderson from FC Bodo. There may also be further squad strengthening to come, but even if there isn’t, the future looks brighter now for Hibernian FC.

As well as having the new signings, almost all of the club’s better players are now tied up on contracts until at least 2024. Hibs fans are optimistic again, with good reason.

Maloney’s predecessor, Jack Ross, was sacked following the team’s inept capitulation to Livingston back on December 8, amid a dismal run of league form.

Few bemoaned Ross’s departure—his style of football wasn’t really compatible with what Hibs fans want and expect to see and his record in the bigger matches left a lot to be desired.

Hibs did finish third under Ross, but they did so gaining fewer points than Neil Lennon’s Hibs side obtained by finishing fourth in 2018, and in a much, much weaker Scottish Premiership than the top flight of 2017/18.

Ross’s win-ratio wasn’t bad, but statistics never tell the full story. By and large, Hibs were boring to watch under his
stewardship and crowds were plummeting.

He steadied the ship after the disastrous Heckingbottom era, yet in the league this season the Hibees looked all at sea. He goes down in history as a good to mediocre Hibs manager.

He will be most fondly remembered by Hibbies for the 2019 derby win at Tynecastle and for the rout of Rangers in this season’s League Cup semi-finals. We wish Mr Ross all the best for his future career.

The SWPL Edinburgh derby was played in mid December at Tynecastle, in front of a crowd in excess of 3500. I went along to the match, which was fast-paced and hard-fought, and there was a good atmosphere—all that was really missing was some singing, so hopefully the Hibs fans and ultras will make an appearance at the next big game the Hibs Women play next season.

The Hibees won the match 3-1, Rachael Boyle, Siobhan Hunter and Eilidh Adams scoring for the Green Jerseys. Ex-Hibee, Erin Rennie, bagged the Jambos’ consolation goal, in an exciting match in which Hibs goalie Emily Mutch brilliantly saved a Jennie Smith penalty.

The Hibs Women’s side is a superb team unit. I was most impressed by Siobhan Hunter, whose playing style reminds me of Jorg Albertz and by Colette Cavanagh, whose skill and trickery is akin to that of Michael O’Neill or even Mickey Weir.

2022 looks set to be a great year for all things Hibernian…