Hibs players 'feel sick' but Jack Ross was close to going before Rangers cup semi-final win

On Wednesday night, even as midfielder Joe Newell was talking to the media, insisting that calls for manager Jack Ross’ sacking were unfair and that it was up to the players to take responsibility for the recent run of poor results, the gaffer was somewhere in the bowels of the Tony Macaroni Arena being given his marching orders.

With the impatient chants of the disgruntled travelling support still hanging in the icy air, chief executive Ben Kensell informed Ross that, following a seventh defeat in nine league games, enough was enough.

There was no letting the dust and emotions settle, no meeting on home turf to discuss it privately at the dawn of a new day. Instead, in the immediate aftermath of that disastrous display at Livingston, there was swift and decisive action and Ross’ tenure as Hibs manager was over.

He did return to the East Mains training centre on Thursday morning, so that he and his assistant manager John Potter could collect their belongings and say their goodbyes to staff and players but someone else will now have the honour of leading the team out at Hampden next weekend for the League Cup final.

Jack Ross walks off to a chorus of boos from Hibs fans after his final match in charge. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

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“We all feel sick in there because we know that we are letting him down, massively,” said Newell, and that was before any of the players were made aware of the price Ross had already paid for their abject performance.

“I have been in changing rooms where you’re on a bad run and the lads are kind of whispering to each other, saying ‘you know what, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the gaffer went now’ but there is not one player in there who wants this manager to leave or who wants the coaches to leave.

“He treats us really well. We work really hard in training and we enjoy training and coming in every day so I know the gaffer is going to come out and say [it is on him] because that’s who he is but, like I said, he can’t call a time-out during the game to give us a shake. It is up to us as men and professional footballers get a grip of ourselves and we haven’t done it. In truth we haven’t done it for the last few weeks.

“We just completely went. Composure went, discipline went, and I’m not just talking about the red cards late on, I’m talking about general play, I’m talking about all of us, whether it be silly fouls, giving the ball away... it was just a bad, bad night.”

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Hibs midfielder Joe Newell has his head in his hands after Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to Livingston. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

And, at that stage he didn’t even realise how bad. They awoke to that news in the morning and received confirmation when they got into the training ground. With a number of players reporting despondency in the dressing room.

There will also be a sense of guilt because this is a squad of players capable of the highs of their semi-final performance against Rangers yet all too often in league games of late they have fallen shy of those standards, for significant enough periods to cost them points and, ultimately, Ross and Potter their jobs.

While for some fans the timing of the departure was already tardy, many thought they would have been allowed to see it through to the cup final at the very least. After all, this was a manager who had inherited a squad in an even worse winless run, when he arrived at the club in November 2019. A club in the relegation mix at that stage, he turned things around and guided them to seventh place safety and the semi final of the Scottish Cup. Last season, in what would be his only full term, he took them to third, their highest finish in 16 years, and into Europe, as well as reaching another semi final and then adding a final to the resume.

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The aim was to operate in those areas of the league table and the cup draws on a regular basis and they were challenging at the top of the standings early doors and progressing as planned in the cup. But having stumbled at the start of October, they have never really regained their footing.

There are suggestions that the writing has been on the wall for a while, with the club’s hierarchy looking for a switch. They were supposedly ready to pull the trigger last month but Ross earned a stay of execution with the semi-final win.

With Ron Gordon back in the States and more of the day-to-day decisions being taken by chief executive Ben Kensell and Gordon’s son Ian, Ross carried less and less sway but it was assumed that if Ross could limp through to January then the club might offer him better backing than they did in the summer, when sales and recruitment left the squad vulnerable in key areas. Those were exposed further by injuries to the likes of Christian Doidge and then Kyle Magennis, who had, initially, picked up some of the scoring slack. Add to that covid and indiscipline in terms of play and decision-making, and Ross did not have his issues to seek.

Ross was not deaf to rumours that a successor was being lined up by those above him and he was not naive enough to write them off, not when results were so gloomy, but he still believed in the players and in his ability to turn things around.

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At a time when he needed others to buy into that, too many were taking fright. Be they players, fans, or his bosses. Hibs proudly claim to be the greenest club in Scotland but as they started looking elsewhere, at possible replacements, they fell into the same trap many have before them and became convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere. Only time will tell if, in this case, that is true.

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