Diamonds are forever for Newell

Hibernian's Joe Newell. Picture: Bill Murray / SNS
Hibernian's Joe Newell. Picture: Bill Murray / SNS
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There’s been a change of manager, a striker who’s re-found his goal touch as well as a slight tweak to the formation. All these factors have helped considerably towards Hibernian’s prospects suddenly looking brighter.

There’s another perhaps less recognised moment when things began to switch in not just the Easter Road club’s favour, but also Joe Newell’s.

While there was still some hardship to come, such as losing a two-goal lead against Ross County and being heavily beaten in the Betfred Cup semi-final, Hibs have not lost in the league since Joe Newell and Chris Maxwell combined to ensure Hibs squeezed past Kilmarnock in a penalty shoot-out win in September. Newell scored with his kick at the sudden-death stage, with Maxwell then saving from Niko Hamalainen.

A 5-2 thumping by Celtic in the next round was the prelude to Paul Heckingbottom losing his job. It was also the last time Newell didn’t start a match. Indeed, he did not 
feature at all that evening.

He’s been in the thick of the recent three-game winning spree, however, and has benefitted from Jack Ross’s reluctance to change a side that’s clearly beginning to gel. It was caretaker manager Eddie May who came up with the idea of using Newell in a slightly different position to the role he was handed under Heckingbottom, if he played at all. The midfielder jumped at the chance since it meant returning to where he played growing up, and where he feels he is best suited.

“It was Eddie, because he took over for the St Johnstone game and we played a 
diamond there,” explained Newell.

“He said it to me earlier on in that week. He said, ‘How you would you feel about playing in a diamond?’ I was like, yeah, when I came through the academy at Peterborough, that’s what [Darren] Ferguson used to play every week. So, yeah, I was more than happy to play there. Obviously, the gaffer now has just played the same team.”

Oddly, although Heckingbottom signed Newell from Rotherham United, he only started four times under him. If he’s in the side today for the visit of Kilmarnock, who Hibs can draw level with on points with a victory, he will have started the same number of games under a combination of May and Ross.

“For whatever reason, I was just not playing as much as I would have liked,” he said, reflecting on life under Heckingbottom. “I just couldn’t really get on a run. And every player wants a run of games, that’s when your fitness comes through and your form.”

Nevertheless, he claims he never once regretted moving north, even when he could not get a run of games in a struggling team. Life outside football helped and he has settled well in Edinburgh.

“It was a difficult time, it wasn’t good,” he said. “But it is part and parcel of football and you try not to take too much notice of it – if you can. You need to stay self-confident, keep believing in yourself and keep believing in the team. You need to train well, remain professional and know that things will turn around.

“I never regretted my decision [to join Hibs],” he added. “Even when I was not playing, I was still enjoying it at Hibs. It’s a great place to be. I never once thought that I wanted to leave. It’s only been two or three months so that is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“I was able to lean on my girlfriend. She has moved up here with me and I’ve got friends and family who will come up to visit. Plus, the lads here are all great.

“It’s a close group and we all do things together. So I honestly never got that worried and started to think oh no, it’s the end of the world.

“I know my own ability and I know how good this team is so it was just a case of when the tide would turn, rather than if it would turn.

“I feel good and I feel settled. It helps when you are playing well and getting a run in the team.”