Give Jack Ross the time he needs to shape his Hibs side urges John Hughes
“No, I think I was!” says John Hughes.
A former Hibs player, captain and manager Hughes had hoped for a second spell at the helm but it was Ross who proved the Easter Road board’s choice to replace Paul Heckingbottom and try to steer the misfiring squad into the top half of the Premiership table and then up towards the scuffle for European places.
Since his arrival, the Leith side have won four, drawn one, lost four. Two of those defeats were to the Old Firm but the fact they also include slip-ups against Ross County and then, most recently, Livingston, which allowed the West Lothian side to finish 2019 ahead of them in the standings, is notable.
“It has been inconsistent,” said Hughes. “After losing to Ross County they had a good result against Aberdeen. Then they lost to Celtic and Rangers and then they had a good result against Hearts but lost to Livingston. To go where they want to go, they need to find that consistency.”
The club and the fans also have to be patient and give the former Sunderland boss the time and the backing needed to shape his own squad and get the team winning on a regular basis.
“Jack is very conscientious in the way he goes about his business and he has the fantastic experience of being down at Sunderland. I think that when you see them now, they got rid of him a little too early,” Hughes added. “They should have given him a chance. All managers want time but he will still look back on that experience and, even now, feel that it stands him in good stead. He will probably still want to be in there, taking Sunderland up, but he will believe that the experience will stand him in good stead. So it was a fantastic appointment, a very good appointment. But he needs to get his own team in there and that will take him two or three windows.”
The latest appointee is the ninth Hibs boss in just over a decade and Hughes, who counts among the predecessors ditched when times got tough, says there has to be a period of greater stability.
“One hundred per cent. I think if you get over a year now, you are lucky,” said Hughes. “Look at myself, Mixu [Paatelainen], Colin Calderwood, Terry Butcher, John Collins and Neil Lennon… like I said, all managers need time. You make mistakes but you need backing and if you can recognise your mistakes, you need time.”
Changes to personnel and to tactics are inevitable with a new boss but while the transfer windows will be useful for Ross and Hughes envisages arrivals and departures, the pundit does not see the need for wholesale changes. Lewis Stevenson, Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor, David Gray and Ryan Porteous are players he insists give the club its identity and he describes Scott Allan, pictured inset, as “the best player at Hibs”, who has the ability to change the course of a game with a clinical pass or a wee bit of skill. The type of creative force that can get spectators off their seats, he says he is a player he “would pay money to watch”.
Martin Boyle’s pace is an asset largely denied Heckingbottom by injury but could prove pivotal to his successor, he continues, but mainly if utilised in an advanced role, wide, or through the middle, as he was in the recent derby win,
While Hughes hears the call for two up top, and sees merit in summer acquisition Christian Doidge, he says Florian Kamberi has to decide if he really wants to be at Hibs and maintains that playing a two-man frontline leaves Ross with a midfield quandary that will need addressed, as he tries to find the balance between his attacking options and finding a way to win the midfield battle.
“I’m a big Mallan fan. I love Mallan and he would always play in my starting XI but then again, is he a No.10 or a midfielder? Does he go box to box? He does need something in there,” Hughes added.
“Anyone who has played football will tell you, you have to win the midfield battle.”
Listening to the rumours linking Ross with former Hibs and current Sunderland players Dylan McGeouch and Marc McNulty, Hughes believes both would help the Easter Road cause.
“I have always seen Hibs as a top four club, getting into Europe and getting runs in the cup and if you don’t do that, you always have to be in the top six. I think Jack will do that and if he is bringing in the kind of players I am assuming he will, I can see that happening.
“If it is the likes of McGeouch and McNulty then he also has the experience of seeing those players down in England and I think Hibs are at the stage where they can back him. I think they run a tight ship but I think they will know that they do need two or three. Saying that, one or two might have to go, as they shuffle the pack.”
John Hughes was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.