Efe Ambrose has confessed that Hibs players quietly questioned the judgment of their manager after he allowed the club’s two highest scorers to leave in January but the success of their replacements has vindicated his decision, with the team now within touching distance of second place.
Anthony Stokes was offloaded to Greek Super League side Apollon Smyrni, while Simon Murray was part of a loan deal that saw him move to Dundee and Scott Allan return to Easter Road. But Allan’s arrival, allied to the recruitment of both Florian Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren, has galvanised the Leith club’s league ambitions and bolstered their chances of securing a Europa League qualifying spot.
“I wanted to add a creative midfielder and the Scott Allan one for me was good business. Maybe we got a bit lucky with that one,” explains the Hibs boss, Neil Lennon. “The strikers? Well, we weren’t putting teams away when we were on top in a lot of games. I needed a physical presence at the top end of the pitch which we have in Kamberi and I needed more of a goal threat which we’ve got in MacLaren and Kamberi together. I understand there were eyebrows raised but we see the players every day and with Stokes’ unprofessionalism... I didn’t want to but I felt compelled to do what was right for the team and the club.”
“Well, sometimes you cannot challenge him,” says Ambrose, pictured right. “You have to trust his instincts because he has been there and done it at the top level. You need to support him in what he’s trying to do and no-one can question his authority or judgment because if you do, you know what will come.
“He let Stokesy go and sent Murray to Dundee but sometimes you need to take risks to get where you want. He took the risks and it is paying off. It was a surprise to me because nobody thought Stokesy or Murray would leave. They had more than 20 goals and they were the top and second-top goal scorers. Some people might think, ‘what is he trying to do?’ The players were a bit confused when he let them go and brought in two new players who nobody knew and who haven’t played in the league before. It was strange to us but when they came into the team, we can see what they bring so we supported them and helped them settle down quickly. The gaffer makes sure we fight as a team and that’s something we’ve brought into the second half of the season. It has helped us believe we can compete with the best.”
Sitting in fourth place as they head to face Ross County this afternoon, their sights are set on a European place and then hopefully overhauling Rangers and Aberdeen and completing their first season back in the top flight as runners-up to Celtic.
“Coming back up our goal was to be in the top six and win a trophy. But when we lost to Hearts in the Scottish Cup we knew then we could not win a trophy. So being in the top four and getting a European spot was the only thing we could achieve. Being in Europe is like winning a trophy for us, that is what the gaffer said to us. That would be a great achievement for the club and that has been the goal since the cup game.
“Right now that’s our goal. We are one point behind Rangers and four behind Aberdeen, we’re close and we need to let them know we’re coming. Nobody is safe right now – maybe only Celtic.”
Former Hibs defender Liam Fontaine will be in the County ranks this afternoon and he remains confident the Staggies can avoid relegation after Tuesday’s 4-0 thumping of Partick lifted them off the bottom of the Premiership.
“Tuesday’s win shows we’re up for the fight,” said Fontaine. “A lot of people were ready to write us off earlier on in the season when we were adrift but we have managed to get ourselves back and now we’re off the bottom of the table.”