Joe Newell has become so important to Hibs and one of Nick Montgomery's first big decisions proves it

Signed by Paul Heckingbottom, there have been a number of managers who have walked through the gates at Hibs’ East Mains training ground in the seasons since.
Joe Newell has become one of Hibs' most important players.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)Joe Newell has become one of Hibs' most important players.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Joe Newell has become one of Hibs' most important players. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

They all brought different philosophies, and enjoyed varying degrees of success, but through all the differences, they seemed to agree on one thing, even when sections of the support did not. They all believed in Joe Newell. They didn’t all concur on how best to utilise the Englishman but, moving on from his inauspicious start out on the left wing, a succession of Hibs managers have helped to cultivate a key player and captain.

Handing him the armband at Rugby Park on Saturday, new gaffer Nick Montgomery, in his debut game in charge, indicated he had seen nothing in his first week to doubt the faith his predecessors showed in the 30-year-old.

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One of the few Heckingbottom players to make it at Easter Road – Christian Doidge is the only other survivor from a crop that included the likes of Jonathan Spector, Josh Vela, and Tom James – in those early days it seemed an unlikely scenario.

But five years on he has proved just how pivotal he is to Hibs, winning round the majority of fans who doubted that and impressing each new boss who filtered in.

It has been a rollercoaster at times, with the player himself admitting that the intensity of the scrutiny was difficult to adjust to initially, especially when results under Heckingbottom were poor and his new signings were being blamed.

In a sport where strong opinions are prevalent, in the stands, and on social media, Newell has had to be even stronger, showing the leadership qualities needed to drive those around him on as well.

Heckingbottom’s successor Jack Ross saw it, which is why Newell was offered a new contract. And, as the team wrapped up one of their most successful seasons, finishing third in the league and pushing through to the latter stages of both cup competitions, the midfielder was one of the most consistent performers.

But there were creases that had to be ironed out. A quality passer of the ball, with vision and football nous, there were vulnerabilities. Willing to put a foot in and battle, his tackling occasionally left him exposed. There were red cards, in cup ties and in European qualification, but even then the leadership qualities were evident. When mistakes were made, he fronted up. The longer he has stayed at the club, the more responsibility he has assumed and he has matured into the type of player fans sing rather than complain about.

And, game recognises game. One of the club’s most legendary captain’s David Gray was the man who first handed him the armband. During his spell in interim charge in December 2021, he tasked Newell with leading the team out against St Mirren.

When Shaun Maloney took over, he saw what Newell could offer and another contract extension was offered, and signed.

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“In terms of what we are trying to build here for the long-term, Joe is an integral and really influential player,” said Maloney at the time. "Not only has he demonstrated a consistent high level of technical performance on the pitch, he plays a very important leadership role within the squad.”

That deal ties him to the Leith club until the summer of 2025 but, it feels like there is a bond there that will last much, much longer.

Settled with his fiancee Hannah in East Lothian, where the lifestyle, the golf, the football and, finally, the widespread recognition of his ability have combined to render the memories of those difficult early days hazy, he no longer seems like a player passing through or one of the guys certain supporters turn to when looking for a scapegoat when things go wrong.

Although that season under Ross was a solid one, he has continued to improve, even when the team’s form has stuttered, and he has evolved into one of the elder statesmen of the side.

Last term, while still being used in a deep-lying midfield role, he still weighed in with three goals and seven assists and it was telling that he picked up both the Players’ Player of the Year title, as well as the award voted for by fans.

Perhaps coincidentally he has grown even further since then and the positivity he brings to the squad and the confidence he oozes on the pitch has been influential.

He was the driving force in Europe, taking the second half of the first leg against Club de’Escaldes by the scruff of the neck and netting a morale boosting late goal before stepping forward to handle the media fallout and the fans’ anger in Andorra. The man with an almost 80 per cent successful pass rate this season added a further class performance and a goal against FC Luzern and he continues his quest for glory at Hibs.

"I just feel I have had a good year or two now in terms of consistency, and over the summer I just tried to do what I could to maintain that consistency to my game,” he explained last month. “I know that a couple of games always add to that noise so yeah, I have been happy with my performances so far this season.”

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Getting forward more, he helped to set the agenda and set up goals. A sign of his burgeoning self-belief, it is also a show of greater maturity.

“I think there are certain situations, as you get older, when you recognise that certain games ask for more. Different games ask for different types of things and I try to recognise that before and during games. I have been enjoying my performances and enjoying playing.”

That has been obvious and Montgomery was simply the latest to tap into that on Saturday and reward it with the armband.



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