Sacked Craig Levein won’t want my sympathy says Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom says Hibs have 'no-one to be scared of' when they face Celtic. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Paul Heckingbottom says Hibs have 'no-one to be scared of' when they face Celtic. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
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Paul Heckingbottom has more reason than most to feel sorry for Craig Levein.

The Hibernian head coach has found himself under comparable pressure for several weeks amid a creeping malaise at Easter Road. Ninth in the Premiership and without a league win since the opening day of the season, the point of no return has come for some supporters.

Indeed, for much of this campaign the question ‘which Edinburgh club would 
blink first?’ has provided a captivating, if rather distasteful, 
sub-plot.

On Thursday evening, Hearts owner Ann Budge 
provided the answer. A 1-0 defeat at St Johnstone the previous night and slipping to joint-bottom of the table was the final straw for the Gorgie club.

Nevertheless, Heckingbottom is reluctant to offer 
Levein his pity, insisting that is the last thing his old rival would want. This, he explains, is the life they signed up for.

“There is a mutual respect for the job we’re doing, because we know how difficult it can be,” said the former Barnsely and Leeds boss. “We’ve come across each other a few times, doing some charity work and playing against each other, and we get on great.

“But I wouldn’t imagine he would want my sympathy. We got into this job knowing what it is and nobody would be sitting here if they didn’t enjoy it.

“Not every bit of it is enjoyable but there is satisfaction to be had from the challenge, from knowing that you’ve given everything in a tough job.

“Craig has been through this before, he’s had big success before and this bit is just part and parcel of the game.”

There came a point on Wednesday night when Heckinbottom looked unlikely to outlast his counterpart across the city. Trailing 2-1 against Livingston deep into the second half and, with results elsewhere going against them, Hibs were bottom of the Premiership. A portion of the support chanted ‘we want Hecky out’ as owner Ron Gordon watched on from the director’s box. It felt like the end for the Englishman. And then Martin Boyle notched a 95th-minute equaliser.

“Personally, it’s difficult,” added Heckingbottom. “You don’t want to be in that position where people are talking about you losing your job. It certainly drives you and narrows your focus. Ultimately, you need to be happy going to bed at night, thinking ‘have I done everything I can?’

“A lot of things are out of my control but I’m in control of how hard I work, how I behave, how honest I am with people.

“The one thing you can make sure you do is fight and fight and be the role model for others to follow.”

It is a placid, philosophical view from a man who was dismissed by Leeds United after just 16 games in charge and he posits that thick skin is not only a prerequisite to being a manager, but an inevitable result of a career spent in this cut-throat sport.

“From when you are seven years old, everyone has an opinion on you,” he continues. “Then you get older and people judge you against the other good players, then it’s whether to sign you as a schoolboy and whether to keep you.

“Then it’s whether to give you a YTS, then are you good enough for pro? Good enough to be in the 11? Then you have 30,000 people shouting at you, saying you’re no good. That’s increased tenfold when you are a manager.”

Gordon will be enjoying Hampden’s hospitality today and will expect to see some bang for his buck against Celtic. Otherwise, he may leave the national stadium with a major call to make. “We’ve got no-one to be scared of,” said Heckingbottom. “In my three games against Celtic, we’ve drawn two and lost one – and in the one that we lost, a couple of moments of magic from their good players took the game away from us. We have to be at our best to try to limit their opportunities, and capitalise on the ones that we create.”

From a personal perspective, Heckingbottom says the prospect of reaching a major domestic cup final is not one to be understated. “This was part of the decision for me [to join Hibs],” he added. “I saw this as a big opportunity. If you do well there’s a chance to get to a domestic cup final, a chance to get into Europe.”