HIBS’ STEVIE MALLAN IS A DRIVEN MAN – AND HECKINGBOTTOM IS DRIVING
Paul Heckingbottom may not have changed much since his Barnsley days but Stevie Mallan most definitely has.
Or so the mercurial midfielder, pictured, hopes.
The relationship between the duo was among the more intriguing subplots when the Englishman was appointed to succeed Neil Lennon in February, having worked together at Oakwell during the 2017-18 campaign. Heckingbottom was enamoured enough with the player to fight off several other suitors and sign him from St Mirren.
However, once in the door, Mallan struggled to make his mark, enjoying only five starts – albeit Heckingbottom did depart for Leeds United midway through the season and it would be fair to say the Scotsman was not to the taste of his replacement, Jose Morais.
Now reunited in Edinburgh, any fears that Mallan would slip down the pecking order have proved unfounded. He is among the first names on the teamsheet and Heckingbottom has been effusive in his praise of the playmaker, albeit incessant in his demands privately.
“The manager has been exactly the same as he was at Barnsley,” said Mallan. “Even back then, he was always talking to me about how to improve.
“He’s probably even more on my back now because I’m playing. He wants me to keep my standards high. You could see those demands worked for him at Barnsley and it’s working just now.
“I hope he’s seeing a better me! I hope to be in his plans for next year. I’ll try to work my arse off in pre-season and make sure I’m on the teamsheet.”
Competition for a place is likely to be more fierce than ever. Scott Allan has already agreed to join Hibs from Celtic on a pre-contract, joining Mallan in the heart of midfield, while several loan stars and out-of-contract players must be replaced.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Scott,” said Mallan. “He’s a ball-playing midfielder and that’s exactly what you want.
You want boys who’ll take the game by the scruff of the neck.”
Mallan reckons the progress made since the arrival of Heckingbottom will ensure a swathe of talent ready to join Allan in signing on at Easter Road.
“Ever since the new gaffer’s come in, we’ve picked up our performances,” continued Mallan.
“We’re disappointed with the last two results but it was always a big ask for us to get into the top four.”
The notion that Hibs could lack the motivation of Aberdeen – still nursing hopes of pipping Kilmarnock to third spot and securing Europa League football – prompts a knowing smile.
“Everyone knows there will be recruitment happening over the summer and you don’t know who the manager’s going to bring in.
“Yes, Aberdeen have got something to fight for – but we’ve got places to fight for.”