Hearts assistant manager Billy Brown yesterday voiced his belief that Hibernian have been found wanting when placed in high-pressure situations in recent seasons.
This observation is conveniently timed on the morning of a League Cup quarter-final tie between the rival teams at Easter Road, with Brown adding that Hibs have fallen short so far this season considering the amount of money that manager Pat Fenlon has been handed to improve the team.
Brown used the case of striker James Collins, who has scored two goals in 11 appearances after being signed from Swindon Town for a reported £200,000, to illustrate how Hibs have out-stripped all other teams apart from Celtic when it comes to re-strengthening their squad. Fenlon signed ten players in the summer, including Collins. Hibs are currently sitting in seventh place on goal difference from St Johnstone, while Hearts, who were deducted 15 points at the start of the season after going into administration, are bottom. Brown seemed to choose his words carefully as he contemplated Hibs’ fortunes over the last two years.
“There’s always pressure in these games but I don’t think we’re under as much pressure as our opponents,” pointed out Brown. “With the number players that have been signed by Hibs over the last 18 months to two years, there are big expectations.
“To pay £200,000 for a player in this day and age in Scottish football is some outlay,” he added. “The club have provided the finance to have a team there and I’d think the supporters will be expecting at least a victory against us and maybe more after that.
“With the pool they’ve got, you’d be expecting to be up there in the top three or four. They still might be able to do that but they had a poor result on Saturday as well and didn’t play well.
“I’d think the expectations of the club and certainly the supporters are higher than where they are at the moment. I think the fans would be expecting to win a trophy and this is their best chance with Celtic being out.”
Brown reflected on Hibs’ tendency to wilt on major occasions. As well as the 5-1 defeat to Hearts at Hampden in the 2012 Scottish Cup final, they also played poorly at the same stage against Celtic 12 months later. Hibs were again disappointing in the 1-0 defeat to a young Hearts side in the first derby of the season in August.
“I don’t know why Hibs haven’t handled pressure, because they are an experienced team,” said Brown. “The average age of our back four is 19. If you look at Hibs’ team, they are all experienced.”
“They should be able to deal with the pressure,” he added. “They are all experienced SPFL players. But, as far as Hibs are concerned, that’s Pat Fenlon’s problem. We have enough to handle.
“The League Cup is up for grabs and our fans want to win it as well but we’ve got a young team. I don’t think Hibs have got many young players playing. All in all, I think they’d see themselves as big favourites and [there are] big expectations on them.”
Coming from someone who spent nine months inside the Easter Road camp and worked alongside Fenlon, the observation about Hibs failing to cope with the pressure of expectation carried more weight than might otherwise have been the case. It also prompted the expected spiky response from across the city.
“I can remember Billy saying that when he was here that the pressure was all on Hearts,” said James McPake, the Hibs skipper.
“Is it two games in ten that we’ve lost?” McPake asked, with reference to Hibs’ current form. “I don’t need Billy Brown or
anybody else to tell me how big this football club is.”
Fenlon, meanwhile, was short and to the point: “I am not too interested in what he has to say. I am just concentrating on my own club and getting us right and prepared for tomorrow night.”
Regarding Brown’s suggestion that Hibs have been unimpressive on the big occasion, McPake reminded reporters that Brown had been present at some of these disappointments. “If we were underachieving in the past two years then he was here
as well so he must be part of that,” he said.
Brown was recruited by then manager Colin Calderwood as coach in 2011 and was in the Hibs dugout when the Easter Road side were thrashed by their rivals in the Scottish Cup final at the end of that season. It proved to be Brown’s last match as a member of the Hibs backroom staff and his contract was not renewed.
Fenlon explained that they could not afford to keep hold of Brown. However, as recently as this weekend Brown opened up about the parting of ways. He complained that “it wasn’t right”. It is understood that he felt he had received the verbal promise of a new contract.
Brown said there was “no bitterness” informing his views ahead of tonight’s televised cup clash, which kicks off at 7pm.
“Things happen in football that shouldn’t happen,” he added. “What happened at Hibs, shouldn’t have. I didn’t deserve that but you are only bitter about it for a wee while. Bitterness is a waste of emotion.
“I quickly got over that and have met Pat since. Since leaving Hibs, I’ve ended up back where I should be. So really, I don’t have any problem. Pat has a job to do, I have a job to do and life goes on.”