Joe Newell is a jack of all trades and master of, well, them all. Or so it seems, as the Hibernian utility man quietly emerges as one of the surprise success stories of Hibernian’s campaign.
The versatility of the former Rotherham United player is proving increasingly invaluable to his head coach, Jack Ross, with the 26-year-old shining on the right-wing, in most conceivable central-midfield berths and on the left of an attacking trio.
Newell was the square peg in a round hole once more for Wednesday’s 3-0 triumph against Ross County, turning in a super showing as left wingback in an impressively effective 3-5-2.
Not only did he take to the job like a duck to water, he teed up goals for Christian Doidge and Adam Jackson. That’s four assists in his last five games, stats fans.
“I appreciate the trust the gaffer puts in me to do a job in different areas,” said Newell. “Right-wing, all across the midfield, left wingback – I’m all over the shop!
“The gaffer has asked me to play a few different positions and I’m more than happy to do that. I’m a team player and see being quite versatile as a positive.
“The gaffer was thinking about the shape and personnel and asked me on Tuesday – in the lead up to the [Ross County] game – whether I had played at left-back before. I told him I had, when I was younger… a lot younger.
“It was a few years ago since I’ve done that job and it’s not always easy to do these different roles, but I seem to be able to fill in and feel comfortable. It’s not like anything is alien to me.”
Wherever he plays, it seems, Newell has become one of Hibs’ most pivotal performers.
It would have taken a brave punter to predict that amid his travails earlier this term. He struggled to break into the starting line-up and, on the occasions he did, failed to impress. Newell was written off in some quarters as another one of Paul Heckingbottom’s transfer window missteps.
The Englishman has no desire to throw former manager Heckingbottom, pictured inset, the man who signed him, under the bus, but he clearly feels more valued under the current regime.
Moreover, Hibs are starting to motor. They have lost just once in eight games since the winter break, against Rangers, and could give themselves a four-point cushion in the top six if they defeat Kilmarnock today.
“Everyone can see the difference in the side now since Jack has come in, and I don’t mean that as any disrespect to Paul [Heckingbottom],” he continued. “There has been a change, as a team and for me personally.
“I’ve played more, which suits me, and it’s easier to enjoy your football when the team is winning, that’s all I care about.
“I can remember when the new gaffer came in, he spoke to us all individually and made it clear he wasn’t going to be like ‘I’m not playing you because the old manager signed you’. He’s not like that at all. It was a fresh start and a lot of the boys have taken it.”
Indeed, Newell could be forgiven for watching the exodus of Heckingbottom’s signings last month and wondering what might have been.
Glenn Middleton was packed off back to Rangers, Chris Maxwell’s loan from Preston was annulled and Josh Vela was allowed to join Shrewsbury.
There was a fleeting moment, after Heckingbottom was dismissed, when Newell wondered whether that may be his fate. That fear quickly passed.
“When [Paul] left there were a few of us in limbo,” admitted Newell. “It didn’t turn out well for Josh [Vela] and Chris [Maxwell], who went back down to England but, on the other side of the coin, I’ve been playing lately and Doidgey [Christian Doidge] is on fire.
“Without sounding big-headed, because that’s not me at all, I know I’ve played enough games at a good level and I’ve always believed in my own ability. When you see things and hear things – negative comments about you – no-one wants to see them, but I knew I’d turn it around.”