Jack Ross says change is gonna come at Hibs, just maybe not yet

Jason Naismith and Scott Allan lead the Hibs players at training ahead of Wednesday night's game against Ross County. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Jason Naismith and Scott Allan lead the Hibs players at training ahead of Wednesday night's game against Ross County. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
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Reporters covering Hibs in recent weeks have not had to worry about locating a teamsheet.

Not since the days of the Famous Five has it been so easy to reel off an Easter Road side.

Even the substitutes have been the same. On Saturday against Kilmarnock, as in the last three outings, 
Stevie Mallan, Daryl Horgan and Martin Boyle all stepped off the bench in the second half. Jack Ross has 
certainly stuck to the script since becoming head coach last month.

Even what has been described as the first setback of his short tenure hasn’t convinced him change is necessary. While Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the visitors from Rugby Park was not the desired result and the circumstances – losing an equaliser in the dying moments after being 2-0 ahead – were particularly disappointing, Ross is not itching to disrupt a 
settled side that pre-dates his arrival.

The chances are it will happen before long, perhaps as soon as tomorrow evening when Hibs continue a heavy festive schedule with a trip to face Ross County.

The atmosphere at East Mains when the players came in for training yesterday emphasised that no one, the head coach included, was treating what occurred at the weekend as a downer. There were large parts of the game where Hibs played as well as they have all season.

“Every time you get another game further into the schedule, your first thought immediately after the game is: do we need a freshness about it?” said Ross. “But then you come back in and the players look bright and bubbly and that can cloud your thinking a bit.

“At the moment it is not as if they are not playing well, they are playing well. That makes it more difficult to freshen things up. But we will weigh that up.

“The players were good in training. But we will see how they react to what they did today. But I imagine as we get further into this period, we will start to freshen things up as well.”

It’s all well and good for those playing every week. But what is to be done about the several other players who consider themselves first-team starters and yet are being left to kick their heels on the sidelines? This has been Ross’s greatest challenge since coming on board. This headache, one he welcomes of course, is set to become worse (or should that be better?) following the return to training of long-term injury absentees David Gray and Darren McGregor.

Neither will feature tomorrow night but McGregor could be a contender for Saturday’s home game against Aberdeen, providing he comes through today’s Reserve Cup clash with St Mirren. Ross stressed how crucial it is to ensure those who are not currently enjoying minutes on the park still feel included.

Not only have Hibs been consistent in terms of starting XI and substitutes for the last four matches, those who have been left sitting a little gloomily on the bench have been the same; goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, Tom James, Andy Jackson and Oli Shaw.

“That’s the key aspect, when you are in a run of games people can sometimes forget about the ones on the bench or those not even stripped,” said Ross. “But they are just as important in this period.

“It is important to keep them not just physically in the right condition but also mentally in the right place, should they be required. So we put as much effort into sessions we plan for these players as we would if the whole group was training.

“You will have disagreements with players over whether they don’t 
play or whether they come on, I have never had an issue with that,” he added. “But, on the human level, you need to make sure you remember them and care about them in that period, especially if you are doing well. If you are winning games and playing well that’s the time you can get carried away and forget about them.

“But they are just as important as the players who are starting games.”

Ross has plenty time to deliberate whether to retain the same starting IX for the fifth game in a row. Hibs will travel to the Highlands this afternoon in preparation for tomorrow’s clash. It’s a long journey, particularly at this time of year. But it’s second nature to Ross after his experiences at Sunderland, where trips to places as far away as Plymouth and Portsmouth are commonplace, often also in midweek.

Dingwall, by comparison, is a 
dawdle. But the challenge that awaits them there will be anything but. Ross was not reading too much into County’s 4-1 defeat to Celtic on Sunday. He knows the hosts are desperate to arrest a run that is the reverse of Hibs’ own league record. While the Easter Road side are unbeaten in nine league games, Ross County have not won for the same number of matches.

“It is tough playing against the champions and a team that’s in incredible form,” observed Ross. “It will be a very different game for them on Wednesday, even in terms of how they play, system-wise. They tweaked the system a little bit yesterday – but it was a different [kind of] game to pay too much attention to.”