Hibs falling short again but knee-jerk reaction unlikely this time after strong Lee Johnson backing

Earlier in his career, when Lionel Messi laid out his football desires, the Argentinian genius stepped down off the pedestal that usually separates him from the rest of us and, for that moment, he was a mere mortal.

“I always want more. Whether it’s a goal, or winning a game, I’m never satisfied,” said arguably the greatest player of all time. Ask any fan what they want and they will offer a very similar answer. It is the nature of the beast and the curse of the beautiful game but fans always want more.

When he took control of Hibs Ron Gordon made it clear he also wanted more, as did chief executive Ben Kensell when he took on the day to day running of the Leith club. In the search for improvement, managers and staff have come and gone but there is still a mood of unrest.

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The boos at half-time and full-time against Ross County, followed by the backlash after they lost to Kilmarnock on Saturday clarified that. The supporters want more. But they are not the only ones. Manager Lee Johnson does too.

Hibs manager Lee Johnson cuts a dejected figure after the 1-0 defeat at Kilmarnock before t. (Photo by Roddy Scott / SNS Group)
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All that remains up for debate is how the club, the manager, the players and the fans ensure they get what they’re seeking. But, there is not one simple quick-fix.

Sitting in eighth in the Premiership table, the capital side remain just five points off third spot albeit most of the five sides directly above them have a game in hand.

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At the moment there is still plenty of time to salvage the situation but patience is not often a commodity in plentiful supply at football clubs.

After a run of four consecutive victories, they have managed just one win in the subsequent seven fixtures and in such circumstances, many have suggested that the World Cup break has arrived at the right time.

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While the downside is that it offers space for grievances to fester, as players and manager have to wait until mid-December to try to make amends, the absence of the competitive grind will give them time to reassess, regroup and remind themselves what they have been capable of in fleeting moments.

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These players and their manager have been good enough to draw with second-placed Rangers, city rivals Hearts and defeat third-place Aberdeen in their first meeting of the season, so perspective is advised, even if no-one is excusing recent results.

But the lull in competitive games will also provide them with time to get influential players back in the line-up.

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While much has, quite rightly, been made of neighbours Hearts’ injury woes in the opening period of the season, Hibs have also been dogged by mishaps and setbacks. With fitness, similar to form this term, seemingly best described as one step forward, two steps back, Johnson has been forced to pick from a depleted and relatively young and inexperienced squad.

But after the break, there is every likelihood that Kevin Nisbet will be back to help address one of the biggest issues, the lack of cutting edge.

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A club with a handful of forwards, on-loan Mykola Kukharevich has been one of the few positives. Christian Doidge has been allowed out on loan, while Elias Melkersen’s concussion has contributed to a goal drought that stretches back to July. Others like Elie Youan, Momodou Bojang, Jair Tavares and Harry McKirdy have failed to hit the ground running. Such is the signing situation at Hibs, where budget constraints make it difficult to bring in complete players, each of those recruits were signed for their potential or as educated punts based on their hunger and desire and a relatively low financial outlay. But the club will have expected more from them.

Rocky Bushiri, like Joe Newell or even Martin Boyle before him, is a reminder that players can come good, though.

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Patience is always hard to come by and judgement is tested further when the Leith club’s fortunes are pitched against their rivals’. Hearts are still above them despite fighting on two fronts and the end of European distractions would suggest they are capable of kicking on after the break, while Aberdeen, another of the established old clubs, are banging in goals and sitting in third. Hibs’ frustrations come into sharper focus by comparison.

But the fact that Hibs have had this poor run and are still within touching distance speaks to the competitiveness of the league and the fact they are not the only ones struggling with inconsistency.

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While there has been little from Kensell, head of recruitment Ian Gordon or chairman Ron Gordon since the transfer window closed they will be aware of the growing disquiet.

But they are unlikely to react. Once bitten, twice shy, they will be wary of hasty decisions re Johnson’s future, given the mess they got themselves into previously, and given how strongly they backed him just four months ago.

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When he was appointed he was given a four year contract as the board and new boss spoke of the need for stability and nothing has changed. They have tried knee-jerk reactions in the past. With Jack Ross they got to Hampden and they finished third but they wanted more. Shaun Maloney was hailed as the man to deliver that but wasn’t given the time.

Which is why they need to hold their nerve.

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There is a sense that the club is at something of a crossroads. Off the field the hospitality side of things is thriving and fans are still coming along in decent numbers on match days. But the togetherness rebuilt in Leeann Dempster’s time should not be taken for granted.

What happens on the field helps to determine that which is why the next few weeks are crucial in building confidence and returning to winning form when the action restarts next month.

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Hibs kick-off with four key matches, against Rangers, Livingston, Celtic and Hearts. They are tough games but everyone is demanding more.

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