'Nothing surprises me' - Hibs boss Lee Johnson reacts to Robbie Neilson's Hearts sacking
The capital rivals have each lost their last four Premiership games and the pressure was ramped up further on Johnson when Hearts sacked Neilson on Sunday after slipping to fourth, two places and five points ahead of Hibs.
Steven Naismith will take charge of the visitors at Easter Road on Saturday after Neilson – a former Tynecastle team-mate of Johnson – paid the price for the board’s fears over missing out on third and lucrative entry to European group-stage football. It is a prize which Johnson also covets.
“I don’t think it’s impossible for us to get third. Absolutely not,” said the Hibs boss, whose side are seven points behind Aberdeen. “This season, let me tell you, in the remaining seven games for that little bunch, has got a lot of twists and turns to come.”
The former Sunderland manager admitted Neilson’s sacking did not come as a shock given the football landscape but that he feels secure in his own position thanks to his relationship with the board of directors.
“Things don’t surprise me in football anymore,” he said. “We have talked about Scottish football being a goldfish bowl. A lot of managers have gone this season and a lot have been brought into question. You never like to see any manager lose their job, particularly quickly in their tenure, but you don’t know the context. There is obviously a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at every single club.
“That’s why I enjoy this club so much because there is really good communication from top to bottom. We have an experienced board, a solid, sound board and they know that we are in this phase and we are fighting to be successful this season.
“The last two games have been really disappointing, however this is a big opportunity for us and we want to take it. We have to take it. We have a very young team and we are trying to build the club and we are trying to build a level of consistency. This week we will continue on that journey.”
Hibs are only a point ahead of seventh-placed Livingston with two games to seal a top-six spot but Johnson has his sights firmly set on the European places.
Johnson said: “This is what we all wanted when we came here: big derby game, sell-out crowd at Easter Road, with something to fight for.
“This is why we came here, both as players and managers, not to be defeatist and negative but to go and be front foot and positive.
“I’m looking forward to the game, however much people try and make me not look forward to the game.”
Johnson is “hopeful” that skipper Paul Hanlon will shake off a knee knock but inexperienced loan players Will Fish and CJ Egan-Riley could once again be called upon in central defence. The pair started there last week against Dundee United and Fish gifted the home side a last-minute winning penalty.
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