'Proof was in the pudding' - Hibs boss Lee Johnson has no regrets over words and actions after last Hearts defeat

In the immediate aftermath of the 3-0 derby defeat to Hearts in January, Hibs boss Lee Johnson did not hold back.

Insisting there were “too many average squad players” he said he would rather get rid of 10 and sign one player that's high quality. A damning public statement, it portrayed the manager’s frustration but also prompted a few intakes of breath as observers pondered how the squad would react.

But, looking back, the Hibs gaffer has no regrets.

“I was just being honest with everyone. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t said to the players,” stated Johnson as he looked ahead to the fourth capital derby of the season.

Hibs manager Lee Johnson at his pre-match media conference ahead of facing Hearts on Saturday.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)Hibs manager Lee Johnson at his pre-match media conference ahead of facing Hearts on Saturday.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Hibs manager Lee Johnson at his pre-match media conference ahead of facing Hearts on Saturday. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
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“I suppose the proof was in the pudding. Had the next set of performances been poor then there would have been an argument but sometimes in management you have to be a little bit controversial and strong because it’s what you believe.

“It wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, it was just to say: ‘We need to liven up here, it’s not enough to just go out and be mediocre’. It’s as simple as that.”

An unbeaten run of seven league matches followed that tough performance review, with the Leith side picking up 17 points from 21 to thrust themselves into the mix for a European spot. Johnson got his way with numbers culled as players moved on or ventured out on loan, while the arrival of guys like James Jeggo and CJ Egan-Riley in that January window, along with Matthew Hoppe, who has added greater competition and cover up top, all helped to turn things around.

The only defeat between then and the second weekend in March was a Scottish Cup loss to Hearts but that day Johnson’s men put up a better fight before succumbing to the more clinical finishing of their guests.

“Well I think we have got a way better culture now than we had then. It was as important to get players out as it was to get players in, not because they were bad lads, but because there was a bit of a malaise around the building. That’s not there anymore.”

Four defeats in their last four games - the first two against Rangers and Celtic - have dampened the mood though and seen the team slip back down the league standings. The untimely stutter means they need to focus on securing a top six slot over the course of the next two games, before, they hope, turning their attention back to Europe and chasing down the likes of St Mirren, Hearts and third-place front-runners Aberdeen.

“We’re far from finished, in terms of the building phase and what I expect. And that’s why we need these little boosters, these big wins but little boosters over the course of the season, just to keep the positivity as strong as it can possibly be.”

Hearts will turn up at Easter Road with a different manager as Steven Naismith takes interim control following the sacking of Robbie Neilson and while Johnson feels for his friend and former team-mate, he hasn’t allowed events across the city to distract him.

“Robbie knows football management is precarious. I haven’t messaged him yet but I will – when it dies down. Our focus stays on Hibs. It’s a chance to close the gap.”



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