Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom’s immediate priority is to secure a Ladbrokes Premiership top-six place by beating Kilmarnock tomorrow evening.
Long-term, the former Barnsley and Leeds United manager admits he will endeavour to replicate Rugby Park counterpart Steve Clarke’s blueprint for defying financial restrictions in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The Leith side host Kilmarnock this evening looking to close the six-point gap on Clarke’s side.
Heckingbottom has crossed paths with the 55-year-old, inset, in the past and is in awe of what the one-time Chelsea and Liverpool No 2 has achieved on limited resources.
As well as being the main rivals to the Old Firm as things stand, the Ayrshire outfit also collected the most points out of any top-flight club for the whole of 2018.
They achieved that despite a respected sports wages survey claiming Kilmarnock have the sixth smallest budget in the league.
Heckingbottom has won five of his first six league matches in charge of Hibs but admits Clarke’s side will pose a stern test to his team’s bid to propel themselves into European contention.
Heckingbottom said: “I’ve come up against him in games and crossed paths with him on coaching courses.
“Steve is experienced and the level of players and clubs he’s worked with is another reason why you’re not surprised where they are.
“I’ve faced him at clubs like Aston Villa, I was on a coaching course at St Andrews earlier this year on an LMA [League Managers’ Association] course when they were really flying at the top.
“It will be good to catch up with him. He’s someone who’s made it really clear what can be achieved in this league.
“Watching him and his team as I have over a few weeks I can see why they’ve done it.
“There’s a lot of experience in that group and Steve has got them playing in a way where they’re all working for each other too.
“We know how dangerous they are and if you look at them in that respect you can’t be surprised by where they are.
“He’s made good signings, he’s got a good squad of players. He’s a good manager with good coaches who set the team up in a way which suits.
“I also think because Steve is so clear in how he wants to play that’s made his recruitment easier as well.
“He sees the players who can perform the roles and they’ve made the most of everything they have got.
“Here, it’s been about having a really clear picture of where you want to get to then breaking it down and taking time getting there.”
The visit of Kilmarnock comes just three days before the Premiership clash with fierce Edinburgh rivals Hearts at Tynecastle.
The Leith side currently trail their Gorgie counterparts by two points and Heckingbottom has acknowledged that their next two games could have a significant bearing on their final league placing.
He added: “It is a big, big week for us. But the first challenge is Kilmarnock. They’re above us in the league but still within touching distance, if we can get a result. That’s the focus.
“In the short term, we wanted to get to the top six. That does look achievable now.
“That’s through the hard work of the players and the results we’ve got. But, if we get there, it gets even harder – because all we’re doing then is playing teams above us. And that’s what we want.”
Heckingbottom, meanwhile, revealed that Ryan Gauld faces an extended absence due to his hamstring strain flaring up again.
The on-loan Sporting Lisbon midfielder has not featured for Hibs since the 6 February defeat by Celtic.
Gauld, who has only made five appearances since joining in January, played for an hour and scored the third goal in last Monday’s 5-0 reserve thrashing of Ross County.
Heckingbottom added: “He’s just not fit and available, it’s not a proper setback.
“But hamstrings are dodgy, he felt it a little bit, so we have to be careful with him.”
Heckingbottom added: “We played him in a game, he trained after that game but he is just not ready to be involved with us daily.
“We know it is the final part of his rehab and that’s where we need to get him, so he can train every day, gradually build his minutes with his development games and with us so that he is ready and we know that when we put him out to do 90 minutes for us that he can do it.”
Asked if he will be seen again this season, Heckingbottom replied: “Oh I would think so, yeah. If you walk out that door, you’ll see him now, if you want.”
Heckingbottom also had his tongue firmly in his cheek when asked if he had seen Rangers playmaker Ryan Kent’s apparent clash with Scott Brown during Sunday’s ill-tempered clash with Celtic.
Pictures show the on-loan Liverpool player, whom Heckingbottom worked with at Barnsley, appear to strike out at Brown after Celtic’s winning goal in the 2-1 victory.
Heckingbottom said: “I’m not seen it, someone showed me a still this morning. Good on him.”