As we approach the end of August, Hibs’ early season fortunes continue to stutter and stall with, as I write, the most recent game seeing the team in green and white battle back over a twelve-minute period to score three goals, overhauling fellow Championship dwellers, Ian Murray’s Dumbarton in the League Cup at Easter Road. Considering recent happenings – or should I say the lack of them at Easter Road of late, the end of game salvo led by new signing, El Alagui with a brace probably saved a fair amount of carnage amongst the somewhat beleaguered Hibs support.
The game followed an indifferent run of results including a Petrofac Cup defeat by The Rangers and reverses in the league to Hibs’ Edinburgh city rivals away and at home to Falkirk. The sole shaft of daylight was a home win against Livingston. So what’s going wrong exactly?
There have been many promises emanating from Easter Road over the close season and the beginning of the new term and one of those, clearly stated was the intention to work with a smaller squad possessing better quality. All well and good but, currently with just a few days to go before the transfer deadline closes (why do they always ‘slam shut’ incidentally?) there have been few signs of this with only the first part of that policy manifesting. The squad, whilst benefiting from one or two useful looking acquisitions in the shape of the aforementioned El Alagui and Scott Allan in particular has a threadbare look about it with inadequate cover. Again this does not correspond with Hibs stated intention to have in place ‘three players for every position’. It’s nothing like it in fact.
I’ve some sympathy in a professional sense for new head coach Alan Stubbs. The ex-Everton man appears to be a person of integrity and common decency. His ideas on the way the game should be played are none too shabby either with Hibs completely flipping the turgid and basic ‘style’ of last season on its dismal head and replacing it with a neat, attractive brand of passing football on the deck which has been well received by the fans in spite of poor results. There is an inescapable feeling though that Stubbs is being stymied in his wish to recruit the relative quality he needs to make an impression on the Championship with the old guard of Rod Petrie and owner, Sir Tom Farmer being cast as pantomime villains. Cast accurately in my humble opinion.
The much-vaunted acquisition of new Chief Executive, Leeann Dempster has been seen as a generally positive move by the club and certainly the early sightings of her in the media have been interesting ones. Leeann is motivated to move the old club back to its community roots with increased fan involvement and consultation and we are told, more openness and transparency. Things have been a little quiet from her recently and this has increased some fan agitation in what is, after all, a results-based industry.
Regarding Leeann, I’m a bit concerned that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater. Many Hibs fans – totally understandably, and I include myself in this – retain a simmering anger about the happenings in particular of last season and generally for quite some years now. It was only ever going to take two or three poor results for that anger to re-emerge and that anger resentment will naturally find a target. The new Chief Executive is unfortunately a natural target due to her position. I have no idea if ultimately she will do a fine job or otherwise but I think many would agree that the early signs of her work have been encouraging. The problem is that THE main issue – that of signing better quality players, has yet again not been addressed – for whatever reason one chooses to believe. We have all heard much about the various ‘community’ initiatives and the putting in place of a new order off the pitch and this all seems constructive and positive. It’s arguable – certainly in the case of the backroom bodies – whether they are any kind of priority though, depending on your point of view. Personally, and in spite of knowing better, I find myself slightly weary and cynical of hearing about fan consultations and all the rest of the new initiatives. I do, nevertheless, comprehend the relative importance of them.
I’m tired of it though, I confess. I want a team on the park, with the best quality players that can be mustered by whatever reasonable means possible. Relatively speaking, I don’t care what happens off the pitch because this is football, Hibs are a football team and the whole purpose is to put a team on the pitch that can win games with some kind of reasonable regularity. In this, Hibs have failed miserably for many years now – and nothing ever seems to alter, apart from the promises being mouthed by different lips. I want a Hibs team that can win games, with a little style thrown in if possible please. Is that really so much to ask? Nothing else really matters and it’s time that Petrie and Sir Tom acted on that basis or alternatively just leave their nice little investment behind and let us, the fans, get on with making this a club to be proud of again by means of a fan ownership model. This is OUR club and it feels like it is being abused or more accurately, neglected. I, for one, want it back.
In a generally critical essay this time around I’d like to touch on another issue regarding the way the club and in particular its first team squad are being run. I know that many Hibbies share in being baffled and bewildered why, at this stage of the season, we are still waiting on the manager to work with a full first team squad – one capable of challenging for the Championship league title.
It’s a sub-issue in the scheme of things but I’d really love to know why Hibs can’t be ready and prepared at the BEGINNING of the season as other teams appear to be as this never appears to happen. Even those with supposedly lesser player expenditure seem ready from the get-go.. Are points at the start of the season worth less than those in the middle or at the end?
In truth, there doesn’t seem any intention at all to spend the necessary funds needed for players. I’ll be overjoyed at being proven incorrect but the club offer the appearance of biding their time, wishing and hoping that the current staff have enough quality and depth to elevate the club into a fringe play-off spot. It follows that if this policy fails then the club’s spending seems to be tailored to a longer stay in the Championship – beyond a first-time bounce back to the top flight.
Meanwhile Mr Petrie remains inconspicuous (as he must) waiting for a result or two and for the fans to be appeased, for the angry clamour to die down yet again. Long experience probably tells him that if he stays out of the firing line when people are angry, a couple of wins will once more remove the heat off him.
There is no mystery regarding this unsatisfactory general situation. Hibs need to get some quality players through the door and they haven’t done so in sufficient numbers so far. They’ve had long enough to do this by now and there really are no excuses. There is an unfortunate whiff in the air of fan loyalty being taken for granted – fans who are still happily paying Premiership prices for Championship football I hasten to add. I really hope they’re not being taken advantage of.
By the time these words are pinned up on the Hibeesbounce and St. Patrick’s Branch website we’ll all have a better indication of whether Hibs are going to try to turn this state of affairs around and show some ambition and intent. The rumour mill is rife with Leigh Griffiths stories – a move that could potentially turn things on their head at Easter Road. How the fans need that right now.