Hibernian might wish they could sack a manager every week.
Upheaval is supposed to follow a figure being despatched, as Paul Heckingbottom was unceremoniously on Monday.
Instead, an upswing of dramatic proportions was staged under caretaker Eddie May at Perth yesterday. Never mind the four-goal bounty against a supine St Johnstone, the first league goals for summer signing Christian Doidge – and a first professional hat-trick – that brought a first 90 minute victory for the Leith club since the opening weekend of the Premiership.
The three-point haul means a Hibs in crisis are only two points off the top six, boast the second longest unbeaten run in the set-up courtesy of a sixth game without loss and can bask in an away league success for the first time since April. Yet, if that points to Heckingbottom holding Hibs back towards the end of his nine months, Doidge flipped that on its head.
“To be honest, I feel terrible [about league goals only coming now],” said the £350,000 summer buy from Forest Green Rovers, whose misfiring has been considered symptomatic of Heckingbottom’s questionable judgment but who bagged his first of the afternoon only 86 seconds in. “I got into positions to score under the old gaffer and didn’t put them away. Today he’s probably got some choice words for me, but that’s football. You’ve got to move on and see who the next manager is.”
Doidge suggested, though, that it wasn’t merely happenstance that result in Hibs doing a number on a home side that played a significant part in their own downfall – Jason Kerr slipping to allow Florian Kamberi to latch on to a long punt from Lewis Stevenson. The Hibs forward flew down the left and cut the ball inside to Doidge and Zander Clark failed to hold the shot, allowing him to tap in the rebound.
“Playing with two up front and getting the best out of Scotty Allan, playing in the hole, that helped us,” said Doidge.
Doidge once scored a hat-trick for Welsh league side Carmarthen Town in 2017 but yesterday’s was his first in the professional ranks. “I’ve scored so many braces but never got over the line for the hat-trick,” said the front man. “It’s a good feeling.”
St Johnstone simply didn’t look like a team that had racked up back-to-back victories. Criminally sluggish throughout, even with Hibs’ previous frailties, the contest appeared over the moment that Doidge turned in a Kamberi ball driven low across the six-yard box after 17 minutes. The striker completed his hat-trick with a header just before the hour.
The Perth club’s manager, Tommy Wright, despaired that the third Hibs goal – from Allan – two minutes into the second period was caused by slackness as unforgiveable as the first. Matty Kennedy allowed Allan to stride forward 30 yards and cutely clip the ball into a tiny gap to the right of Clark from the edge of the box.
“Individually we were poor. And it does feel like taking a step back after a couple of good wins,” said Wright, with a barb about a Hibs bounce post-Heckingbottom. “They maybe had one or two who ran about a bit more than they did for Paul.”
May, whose team were denied a clean sheet when Stevie May turned in an Anthony Ralston cross in the 90th minute, also made allusions to the instant transformation since the manager’s departure – which has created a vacancy that Australian Harry Kewell – in attendance at McDiarmid Park yesterday – is being linked with.
May, Hibs’ head of academy coaching, made five changes from the side that lost 5-2 to Celtic in last week’s Betfred Cup semi-final and had no doubt as to the most important tweak he made to a team he revealed had not watched previously this season. “It couldn’t have gone any better and I’m pleased for the team,” he said. “The two up top certainly helped, they were both exceptional. And it should be the standard this club sets out to achieve. Because I’ve not been to one game I can’t judge the players on what they’ve done in the past. All I can do is look at what they’ve done in training since Tuesday, which is why I picked the team I did. Fortunately it worked today but that’s down to the players, no-one else.”