Ball winners missing as Paul Heckingbottom damns Hibs’ ‘pretty team’

Motherwell's Liam Donnelly vies with Scott Allan of Hibs during Saturday's clash at Fir Park. Picture: SNS.
Motherwell's Liam Donnelly vies with Scott Allan of Hibs during Saturday's clash at Fir Park. Picture: SNS.
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It seems hideously early in the season to bespeculating on the future of a manager who started the campaign with ringing endorsements of his short spell in charge.

Yet so abject were Hibernian on Saturday, so lacking in any semblence of team shape, enthusiasm or impetus, the 3-0 thumping dished out by Motherwell in Lanarkshire was the cue for many among the Leith club’s support to don black caps as a verdict on Paul Heckingbottom.

Four points from four games this season, which included a trip to Ibrox – a 6-1 drubbing there – isn’t exactly desperate. However, the performances that have resulted in this haul have become increasingly so.

Heckingbottom sought to avoid dwelling on the calls for his head from a small group among the travelling supporters, merely recognising that such attacks come with the territory for a manager in charge of a struggling side.

Privately, though, it must chill him that so few believe he can turn around Hibs for a second time in eight months. It is also entitled to wound him that his efforts in doing so subsequent to the chaos created by Neil Lennon’s mysterious parting of the ways with the Easter Road club in January seem to have been all-too-readily forgotten during this current run. A sequence that has brought only one league win in nine Premiership games, stretching back to April of last season.

Lennon’s last game in charge of Hibs just happened to be a soulless 1-0 loss away to Motherwell, which left the club with only two victories from 13 top-flight encounters. When Heckingbottom took charge a fortnight later, he guided the club to a ten-game unbeaten run in the league that lifted them into the top six and brought a first derby win over Hearts at Tynecastle for six years.

However bad Hibs may appear now, and they were truly awful against a Motherwell side brimming with the aggression, drive and desire that seemed alien concepts to them, Heckingbottom deserves more time to find a way out of this morass.

The 42-year-old Englishman was scathing of his team being outfought and outpaced in key areas, and his cause certainly hasn’t been helped by injuries to defenders David Gray, Darren McGregor and Tom James, the first two sidelined long-term.

For all they may seem classic Hibs types through being ball players capable of the imaginative, his problem is that relying on the artistry of such as Scott Allan, Stevie Mallan and Glenn Middleton will lead you to come a cropper if they aren’t supported by grafting ball winners. Hibs’ glaring issue is that they do not possess the latter, despite Heckingbottom’s – largely – English lower-league recruitment drive that has brought nine arrivals with a day of the window remaining. “A pretty team got dominated in one v ones at key moments,” was how he damned his team’s softness in the aftermath of their Lanarkshire loss.

Vykintas Slivka was the poor soul sent up to the press room to pick over that on Saturday night. He said it was “true” that you needed to graft rather than produce glitz to win certain games in the Scottish top flight. The midfielder was asked if he had a message to the club’s increasingly disgruntled support. “I think my message to them would be to have patience,” said the Lithuanian. “Results will come. We can improve.” Lack of patience means Heckingbottom requires immediate improvement.