Aidan Smith: It's not easy being a Hibs fan but it's even harder being a Hibs manager

When was the last time a football manager steered his club to a cup final with a sensational performance against a team boasting resources many times greater … who was looking forward to his players walking out at the national stadium for the sixth time in little over a year … but who was then sacked just a fortnight after said sensational performance and with the showpiece mere days away?

Jack Ross walks away from another Hibs defeat and out of the job
Jack Ross walks away from another Hibs defeat and out of the job

Don’t tell me, this has happened in South America frequently, and in both Columbia and Bolivia only last week. And in Columbia there was an immediate political coup with the jettisoned boss being installed as the country’s president. Oh, and he also now hosts his own TV game show.

I jest, slightly, about the craziness of a continent where referees have been known to carry guns, but not about the plight of Jack Ross. Maybe the top political post in Britain will become available soon but Ross won’t be a candidate. Here, we’re still (fairly) rigorous about who we want in charge of government. Football, though, is a different kettle of piranha. I’m not sure I ever thought I’d be asking such a question, but at the Tony Macaroni Arena the other night and the morning after, did Scottish football go a little bit Bogota?

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In his one full season at Easter Road Ross took Hibs to third place and Europe, to the semi-finals of the League Cup and the final of the Scottish Cup. Not bad, eh? Then this term after a decent start they stuttered but that victory over Rangers at Hampden seemed to hold out the promise of more progress, a good battle with Hearts for the best-of-the-rest spot and, who knows, maybe some silverware.

Martin Boyle, celebrating his cup semi-final Hampden hat trick, returns to the Hibs team to face Rangers again after suspension
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Instead it brought just one win from four and suddenly Ross was a goner. How? Why? The decision has baffled many in the meeja who liked him. Who the hell do Hibs think they are and when will this sense of entitlement of theirs cease?

Well, as they say in romcoms, it’s complicated. The relationship between Hibs, the pundits, and the fans prompts the same amount of exasperation which befell Princess Diana in her “crowded” marriage. Pundits: Hibs’ 2020-21 record was undoubtedly impressive. Fans: Undoubtedly my backside. Hearts were nowhere last season and Aberdeen not much more prominent. Pundits: But you went far in the cups. Fans: Come on, we should have won at least one of them, probably both. Pundits: There’s no pleasing some people - you play good football. Fans: Actually, it was more exciting under Neil Lennon and Alan Stubbs.

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Who were these fans who shouted for Ross’s head at Livingston - who knew they would be heard loud and clear in that stadium because like macaroni when it’s dry and in a sieve, any noise rattles - and how much serious, critical rigour had they brought to the issue? How much of it was fuelled by Hearts going well and their fears for when the Jambos come first-footing in 2022?

And who are these pundits and how much do they really see of Hibs beyond the brief highlights - because they can’t view the entire Saturday card before Sportscene? Do they think Martin Boyle is brilliant every game? And Kevin Nisbet?

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One lot annoys the other with their perceived fan-boy adulation. (But this is Scotland, the pundits will argue, where many teams, by dint of modest resources or the counter-attack fetish, aren’t as attractive as Hibs - can’t we be allowed to praise?). One lot annoys the other lot with their perceived delusions. (The flair tradition is real and we adhere to it, the fans will insist, and Ross was too conservative, didn’t play Scott Allan, had long enough in the job, this isn’t knee-jerk). You see, told you it was complicated.

Between the two camps, some things are beyond dispute. The last transfer window was a cock-up. The recent league run, putting aside that semi-final, was grim. It included, though, games against the Old Firm, with Hibs having begun the season with a kind sequence of fixtures. (Pundits, you got too excited).

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The semi-final can’t be put aside - Hibs were terrific. Ah, but they

raced into the lead, Boyle finally shone at Hampden, the scoreline became sufficient to justify Ross’s conservatism - and it might have been different if they’d lost the first goal because under the manager the team rarely came back from that position.

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Then there was last season’s Scottish Cup final. This is what killed Ross. Many fans weren’t able to forget that failure. Three times going back decades I’ve witnessed Hibs lose six goals to Celtic in finals and yet there was still spirit in these performances. Back in May there was none. Ross can’t win big, important games, everyone said. And then, wow, he did. And then he lost his job.

No Hibs manager has got everything right, otherwise it would be more than four titles, three Scottish Cups, three League Cups. Eddie Turnbull signed Alan Gordon and Alex Edwards, but then came Duncan Lambie and Joe Ward. For every poet like Franck Sauzee there’s been an Eduardo Hurtado thundering up behind. Stubbs built a fine team from rubble. Lennon inherited John McGinn, got more out of Boyle and Marvin Bartley, but couldn’t survive the departure of the league’s best midfield three.

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Ross inherited Boyle and signed guys who’ve yet to fully convince a (very) hard-to-please support. Next Sunday could get their faces onto the walls of East Mains but it won’t be Ross leading them into the final and I think he should have been allowed that. The new regime at Easter Road know nothing of the special perversities of following this club. They think they’ve made the right call here and they better have. For sure it’s not easy being a Hibs fan. But it’s still harder being a Hibs manager.

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