Putting Scott Allan on a pedestal would be a mistake, according to Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom, who has again defended his decision to replace the popular playmaker during Saturday’s 2-2 draw with St Johnstone.
The Easter Road coach came under fire at the weekend when he opted to utilise the fans’ favourite on the wing rather than in his usual central midfield berth and the supporters turned on him when he substituted Allan with half an hour remaining, with loud boos reverberating around the stadium.
Heckingbottom responded post match by jesting that he was unaware of the law forbidding him taking Allan off but it backfired when he was slammed by angry fans.
“We know he’s already got a good reputation here from before,” conceded the manager, as he looked ahead to tomorrow’s important trip to Motherwell, “and we’ve challenged him to be higher up the pitch and get more goals and assists and he’s responded well so far. Everyone can see that.
“But he’s part of a team and it’s unfair on Scott to put him on a pedestal and treat him any differently to anybody else. He can be really influential for us because if you’ve got a talented player who’s contributing goals and assists at the top end, and he’s also working hard to win the ball back, he can become a real leader and a real figurehead. We’re fully committed to getting him there, and so is Scott.
“Nobody’s more determined than Scott. But he’s not going to play every minute of every game. There are going to be times when he’s going to come off or be on the bench, whether that’s tactical or through Scott not being 100 per cent. So there may be more times like that.”
But, the man who was lauded when he took the team from bottom six to possible European challengers following his arrival last term, is refusing to become too preoccupied by the negativity spawned by the loss of 11 goals in three games, including a hiding at Ibrox and the concesion of a last-gasp equaliser at home last weekend, claiming that rolling with the punches, is part and parcel of the job.
“You’ve got to make unpopular decisions as a manager. You make umpteen decisions through the week and on a game day but it’s generally the decisions people aren’t happy with, or the ones that go wrong, that get highlighted.
“We haven’t got our strongest XI out on the pitch yet, partly through injury, partly through form. But, if we put a team out on Saturday that wins and we’re happy with the performance, that becomes our strongest team and we work around that.”
Fans have been critical of team selections and tactics this term, with many voicing concerns that Heckingbottom does not seem to know what his first-choice line up is.
“At the minute we’ve got reasons why we’re having to chop and change,” he countered, highlighting injuries as an issue.
“And we’ve got players settling in so we’re having to chop and change. It’s not about your best XI but we haven’t had a settled team through those two reasons.”
While the season is still in its infancy, there are already punters calling for a change of manager. That anxiety from the stands was transmitted to the players, according to their manager. But, while he also senses the negativity, he says he is able to cope with it.
“You have that pressure all the time. In this job, it comes with the territory. I’m not trying to give what people write or what the fans say less importance, but when you are winning games you are never as good as folk say, and when you’re losing you are never as bad as they say. You’ve got to keep everything in perspective and focus.
“You can never think that you’ve cracked it or you’ll get a kick in the proverbials. You need to ignore it - it can’t be part of your daily life.
“In the four years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen it change a hell of a lot. Most of it’s around social media. Everyone’s got a platform now to say what they want, what they think. It actually adds more weight [to an opinion] when it’s written down somewhere because someone else will comment back and it all snowballs.
“It’s different for a manager because it’s more personal and that’s why it’s not for everyone. I never set out to be a manager, it was never in my mind to be a manager. I wanted to work with young players and help develop them but then I got the opportunity to manage and when I stepped up to it, I really enjoyed it and thought ‘yeah, it is for me’. Lots of people want to be managers and then try it and think ‘no, it’s not for me’. But I love it. Where else would you get that feeling of pressure and responsibility?”
But Heckingbottom was disappointed by the news that David Gray will be out for up to three months with knee ligament damage and revealed he has not ruled out adding to his defensive options. That may mean looking at free agents if the right business can’t be done this weekend.