Craig Levein says he’ll know when it’s time to quit and now’s not the time
The Gorgie manager has come under intense scrutiny in the past few weeks after the patience of some fans snapped, angered by a poor start to the season.
The team have progressed to the quarter-finals of the Betfred League Cup but are still awaiting their first league win of the season. That has left them stranded at the foot of the table and in dire need of a morale-boosting victory over Edinburgh rivals Hibernian tomorrow.
A vocal section of the support believe that should not be deemed sufficient, even if it is bolstered by a midweek cup bonus against Aberdeen, which would see them into a third successive cup semi-final.
But with the board offering their ongoing backing this week, Levein says he is intent on justifying that faith, maintaining he would know if he had reached the limits of his managerial influence.
“This is quite simple,” he said. “If I don’t think I can have an influence on these players that helps them win matches then I’m wasting my time and everyone else’s time.
“I felt that at Leicester at the time I left. I felt the window had closed, I felt I couldn’t do any more with the players and I didn’t feel there was a connection, I didn’t feel I could influence the way they played.
“That’s a different thing altogether. That’s not what I feel here. I have good connections with the players and my job right now is to help them get over this mini-hurdle.”
While his statistics do not stack up favourably when compared to predecessors, the fact he still feels he has the backing of the dressing room and staff and does not believe the team has been cast adrift, separates him from others who have been shown the door and with key personnel beginning to return he insists they can still scale the league standings.
“For me, there’s personal pride – I’m in charge of the team and we’re sitting at the bottom of the league. That’s the biggest worry that I have, trying to improve our situation to climb the table. But my view is that this group of players are more than capable of doing that.
“The first thing we need to do is cut out silly mistakes. I think five goals this season, we’ve wrapped up and handed to the opposition.
“If we stop that, then that’s one thing I can have an influence on, making sure we keep our focus defensively. If we can do that, it gives us a far better chance of winning the game.”
But having gifted the advantage to critics, winning back the support will be tough and will not be accomplished in the coming week alone, regardless of results. Two huge wins, over two of their greatest rivals, could be a decent start and imbue the squad with the confidence needed to push on.
The anticipated return of seasoned and consistent campaigners Michael Smith and Steven Naismith for tomorrow’s clash, aided by the blossoming form of newcomer Ryo Meshino could aid that ambition.
But in Hibernian they face another side desperate to get their own fans off their back and right their poor early-season form.
Captain Christophe Berra says he cannot remember many previous occasions when both teams were facing up in such dire circumstances, but Levein is longer in the tooth and says that while he can remember a few, the league placings and the current form do little to alter his approach to a fixture he has a decent record in.
“It doesn’t change anything, really. From my point of view, I look forward to the Edinburgh derbies because of the nature of the games. It brings different things but this is bringing those different things plus some other things from a normal Edinburgh derby.
“Pressure is a funny thing to deal with because not all types of pressure are the same. The important thing for me is getting the players in a position where they can do well in this match, that’s all I’m interested in.”
While they have struggled at home, drawing with the Ross County and Hamilton and losing to Motherwell, the away games have offered less of a reward but when faced with tricky matches away to Aberdeen and Celtic, the performances have offered more hope. That will now have to translate into one of their best showings and a points haul at Easter Road.
“Pressure recently has been about being the favourites in the match, at home, where we have to do the running, have more off the ball, have to be more creative, and we haven’t coped with that particularly well. But, now, we are dealing with a different thing. This is a fight for dominance in Edinburgh.”
Arguably, it is a fight for much more. And it’s one they know they need to win.