Why Hibs are bringing in a sniper to East Mains as Rangers 'show of unity' recalled

Hibs manager Lee Johnson is looking for some sharpshooting to give his team a clinical edge but when he welcomes a bona fide sniper into the ranks over the next few weeks, it will have less to do with simply hitting the back of the net and more to do with imbuing his players with the level of resilience needed to meet the club’s overall targets.

The Hibs coaching staff put team through their paces ahead of Rangers' visit to Easter Road on Saturday.
The Hibs coaching staff put team through their paces ahead of Rangers' visit to Easter Road on Saturday.

“How do you build resilience? It’s experience, isn’t it?” said the Easter Road boss in the build-up to Saturday’s head-to-head with Rangers.

Relying on a squad with a youthful presence and newcomers with limited knowledge of the Scottish game and each other, he admits it is taking time to pull everything together but insists they are doing everything they can to accelerate the process.

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“You can’t expect a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old from Portugal, for example, to come over and have the same resilience that you’ve got at your age with what you’ve been through in your life.

Hibs manager Lee Johnson knows his team have to be trained in mental resilience.
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“They have to learn these lessons and then they have to come back stronger. And when they do, and they win their next game against Livingston, for example, and get man of the match, you’ve gone through adversity and come through it.

“So, we need to keep working on it, trust it, trust the training.

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“We do a speaker series where guys come in. I think we’ve got a sniper coming in in a couple of weeks which will be good. All these little things, it’s like drawing on anybody and everybody to try and give these lads that little bit more resilience.”

Hibs have already displayed some resolve, bouncing back from a disappointing Premier Sports Cup campaign and pulling late, late goals out of the bag in their opening two league matches against St Johnstone and then Hearts. But they came up short against their West Lothian opponents last week and are now looking to rebound positively when Rangers turn up in Leith.

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Hibs were defeated by Livingston in their last match.

“Listen, I think it keeps it fresh. In the past I’ve had the Red Arrows and the SAS come in [to speak to players and staff]. We’ve had Marcus Trescothick … anyone that we can get hold of really at a reasonable cost to try and inspire and keep it different.

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“It’s a bit of schooling. I enjoy it, I think the staff enjoy it, and the players end up enjoying it as well. We have to create this growth mindset and this environment which is consistent.

“In terms of the sniper, it’s definitely about control, isn’t it?

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‘It’s about slowing down the mind’s eye and concentration because this modern day young pup, let me tell you, is used to three-second entertainment on Instagram and they move on.

“To hold concentration isn’t the easiest thing to do for these younger guys.”

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The hope this weekend is that Rangers, with a testing second leg Champions League play-off second-leg tie on Wednesday against PSV worth multi-millions, will be the ones struggling to focus. But even if Giovanni van Bronckhorst prioritises the trip to Eindhoven, Johnson says it would be foolhardy to expect a second-string Govan side to pose anything other than a challenge to his team at this juncture.

“You have to be respectful of the opposition’s threat. We would never not be diligent about the opposition. But it’s still about the lads’ attitude when they go out onto the pitch.

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“I thought our attitude was poor in the first 30 minutes against Livingston. I thought it was excellent in the second half and it was one mistake that cost us.

“So I’m looking for that attitude and personality in the performance no matter who we are playing against.

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“I want us to be able to have a team with a blank kit and everyone says ‘yeah, that’s a Hibs team’ because of a recognition of the way we play.

“If we get beat, we know why we’ve got beat. If we play well and win, we know why we’ve done it because there’s a philosophy and a consistency.”

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Having overseen marginally more than a month of competitive action, with newcomers still to settle into the pack, Johnson concedes that developing and improving things on the field is very much a work in progress.

But he does not want his players to take to the field against Rangers or anyone else with any hint of an inferiority complex.

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“You can’t make somebody fitter overnight and you’ve probably done all your tactical work aside from two or three little conversations. But you can give the lads confidence and our supporters can give them confidence.

“A player playing with confidence, you can get 15-20 per cent more out of them than one playing with fear. So we try to instil a lot of confidence in our lads.”

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Rangers will arrive in Leith with three wins from three in their opening Premiership matches, having scored eight goals and conceded just one. But, with their vital European match finely balanced at 2-2 at the halfway stage, the timing of this encounter could make things slightly easier for the home side. And, Johnson knows how delicious victory would taste, having sampled it while playing with Kilmarnock.

“It’s an unbelievable experience. The second time I played against them was the ‘show of unity’, after Rangers got put into administration.

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“I vividly remember it being one of the loudest atmospheres I’ve ever played in. Trying to tell your mate ten yards away to track a runner was nigh on impossible.

“We won that game 1-0, with Dean Shiels scoring.

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“You want big games as a player. I look back at those games now and I just want to play.

“I’ve heard that [these games can be feisty]. I’m learning about these mini-rivalries that seem to be particularly hot in Scotland.

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“My focus, personally, has to be on getting the team right. But the lads are always aware of all those side stories and it’s important for the supporters.”