Next Hibs manager: Lee Johnson emerges as candidate as ex-Sunderland boss and former Hearts and Kilmarnock midfielder applies for role

Lee Johnson has emerged as a candidate to be the next Hibs manager.

Lee Johnson's most recent job was with Sunderland, exiting the Stadium of Light in January.
Lee Johnson's most recent job was with Sunderland, exiting the Stadium of Light in January.

The Scotsman understands that the 40-year-old Englishman is in the running after applying for the job as Hibs narrow down their search for Shaun Maloney’s replacement.

The Easter Road hierarchy have been looking for a new first-team boss after dispensing with Maloney last month following poor performances in the cinch Premiership. Under the ex-Scotland forward’s tenure, Hibs failed to reach the top six and while they made the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, they were beaten by city rivals Hearts at Hampden in what proved to be his last match. Maloney spent just 120 days in charge.

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Hibs are going through their recruitment process and with US-based owner Ron Gordon now in the country, the club is holding interviews after an initial identification process.

Johnson played for Kilmarnock and won the League Cup in 2012.

Roy Keane, Phillip Cocu, Derek McInnes, Tony Mowbray and Karl Robinson have all been linked with the post, but while none of those are veritable contenders, Johnson joins fellow countryman and former Oxford and Lincoln boss Michael Appleton as one of the names that the Hibs board is prepared to consider.

The Newmarket-born former midfielder moved into management nine years ago when he was just 31-years-old following a playing career that took him to Scotland, first with Hibs’ city rivals Hearts for a brief spell in 2006 before he returned north with Kilmarnock between 2012 and 2013, where he won the League Cup. He also had spells with Yeovil Town, Bristol City, Derby County and Chesterfield.

In a management career that has been spent exclusively in the second and third tier of English football, his first job in the dugout was at Oldham Athletic, spending two years at Boundary Park. His stock as one of the country’s up-and-coming managers grew and he was hired by Barnsley in 2015, helping the Tykes avoid relegation from League One.

Johnson then moved to the Championship as manager of Bristol City a year later. His highest finish in the division was eighth place, but he did guide the Robins to the semi-finals of the EFL Cup in the 2017-18 campaign, defeating Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United en route to a last-four defeat by Manchester City. He remained at Ashton Gate until 2020, when he was axed following a poor run of form.

Johnson had a brief spell at Hearts in 2006.

His most recent position was at Sunderland, where he took over in December 2020. He won the EFL Trophy with the Black Cats but was replaced by Alex Neil at the start of this year after a 6-0 League One defeat by Bolton Wanderers.

Hibs have one more match in the cinch Premiership, at home to St Johnstone on Sunday, and can only finish as high as seventh in the league in what has been an underwhelming league campaign for the Hibees.

After taking a risk on appointing a rookie boss in Maloney, Hibs are looking at applicants who have had plenty of experience in British football – a box that Johnson would tick given his extensive time in English football.

The new manager is expected to have a healthy budget to work with after top-earner Chris Mueller departed for Chicago Fire last week, while funds recouped from the sale of Martin Boyle to Al-Faisaly in January are expected to be reinvested into the squad.