‘Joy to watch’ - Journalists’ view on Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom’s time at Barnsley and Leeds United

On Wednesday evening Paul Heckingbottom was unveiled as the new Hibs manager. Joel Sked spoke to journalists who covered his spells at Barnsley and Leeds United to find out what thee Easter Road side can expect.

Barnsley - Leon Wobschall, football writer at the Yorkshire Post

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‘Impressive man-management’

Paul Heckingbottom is unveiled as the new head coach of Hibernian. Picture: SNS/Ross MacDonald
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“Heckingbottom inherited a Barnsley side who were showing clear signs of turning their season around under Lee Johnson in 2015-16 and further cultivated a winning mentality during a fairytale second half of the season when the Reds claimed a memorable Wembley promotion and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy double. His man-management was impressive, allied to his coaching credentials.

“The momentum continued into the following season and Heckingbottom propelled Barnsley into play-off contention in the Championship, only for outside forces beyond his control to dictate that the side was effectively broken up in January 2017 - with key players including captain Conor Hourihane and top-scorer Sam Winnall sold due to the fact that they were out of contract that summer and fresh terms had not been agreed earlier. Further major player exits were to follow.

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“A difficult summer of recruitment followed with Barnsley struggling to keep their heads above water in the next season of 2017-18. It ended in the Reds relegation under Jose Morais - after Heckingbottom, frustrated by issues behind the scenes - left for Leeds in February 2018.

“Most Reds fans would agree that the club would have had a better chance of survival if Heckingbottom had stayed.”

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‘Joy to watch’

“He likes his teams to be organised and play with a high-press. Some of the transition football during the promotion season of 2015-16 and in the first half of the following campaign was a joy to watch with the likes of Hourihane, Winnall, Josh Scowen, Marley Watkins and Tom Bradshaw all excelling.

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“Regarded as an excellent coach, but also very much the boss and not afraid of making big calls and being ruthless when it demands.”

‘One of their own’

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“Barnsley adhered to a club policy of buying aged under 25s during his time at the Oakwell. The manner of his departure - to local rivals Leeds United - stuck in the throats of many Reds supporters, who were scathing of his decision and hurt at ‘one of their own’ and a lifelong fan leaving for one of the club’s bitterest rivals.

“Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since and there is recognition and respect for Heckingbottom’s achievements in returning Barnsley to the Championship.”

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‘Straight-talking Yorkshireman’

“He is plainly not one to suffer fools... has an innate authority which in many ways belied his tender years in managerial circles. He is someone who is capable of being decisive and backing his judgement. An honest, professional, straight-talking Yorkshireman, who was engaging and interesting company.”

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Leeds United - Joe Urquhart, football writer at the Yorkshire Evening Post

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‘Everything went wrong’

“It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that everything went wrong for him at Leeds.

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“United sacked Thomas Christiansen with 16 games of the Championship season to go and were hoping that Heckingbottom arriving at Elland Road would provide the club with some much-needed bounce to push on for a play-off spot.

“The club paid £500,000 for his services from boyhood club Barnsley. Unfortunately it just never really worked for him.

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“Heckingbottom’s squad were hit by a number of senior injuries which led to a vast amount of academy players being used towards the end of the season. Several other senior members of the squad failed to deliver under his watch.

“The final nail in the coffin for him was perhaps at the Middlesbrough in March where Leeds were well beaten 3-0 by a Patrick Bamford hat-trick in their worst performance of the campaign under either boss. A 3-0 home defeat to Wolves followed and it was clear that the troubles on the pitch ran deeper than just the head coach.

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“Following the club’s end of season trip to Myanmar, Heckingbottom was sacked on 1 June having won just four of his 16 games in charge with Leeds finishing 13th. It was clear very early on in his tenure that boardroom support for him had wavered.”

‘Failed to win the dressing room’

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“Leeds fans were generally welcoming and were willing to give him a chance but as with anything in football results do the talking. He simply failed to win over the dressing room and get enough results with Leeds in a good position upon his arrival to secure a play-off spot before falling away to 13th.

“The writing felt very much on the wall for Heckingbottom with about ten games to go. Support for him in the stands had plummeted after the team’s below par performances and with United failing to address any of the issues that they had under Thomas Christiansen. It was always difficult to see how he would survive the summer.

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“Many fans wish him well in his new role at Hibs but felt that the size of the job at Leeds came too soon for him in his career having made the step up from Barnsley.”

‘Tricky situation’

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“(Style of play) is probably the biggest indictment on him. Leeds never really implemented a true style under his watch. Admittedly he found himself in a tricky situation with a number of injuries and under performing players but even so you couldn’t have identified what the team were trying to do in the final stages of the season.

“Having expected a high pressing, full energy style from his Barnsley days it was never really evident at Leeds.”

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