Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hibs: Playing The Blame Game

Another night of misery for Hibs. Failure in the Scottish Cup is nothing new in Leith. But falling to a Second Division side last night increased the woes of a season already so mired in incompetence that mediocrity has become an aspiration.

Who is to blame? Ask three Hibs fans and you might get three different answers. The players? The manager? The board?

Certainly it seems incredible to think it was barely twelve months ago that there was talk of Hibs splitting the Old Firm.

The fall has been dramatic. But not, perhaps, surprising. Even at their best this was a Hibs team whose house was built on sand.

So our first culprit is the previous incumbent. John Hughes has to take his share of the blame. He was the man who built this squad. And the most evident truth is that he recruited too many average players.

Colin Calderwood admitted at the weekend that he does not have what he considers a first team. That is Hughes' legacy and that is the straitjacket that Calderwood is operating in. The chopping and changing of the team that has marked his reign is a search for answers.

What eleven players in that squad can he rely on? Rely on not to make Hibs unbeatable, simply eleven players who can compete. That is the depressing reality that leads to a more depressing realisation: at the moment he does not have eleven players good enough to do even that.

Calderwood is not blameless. Some of the changes he has made have been difficult to fathom. I would also have expected him to have made more of an effort to connect with the fans. The whole club, including the supporters, needed leadership when he arrived. I don't think he has made enough of an attempt to offer that.

I certainly wouldn't sack him. Hibs have had enough chopping and changing. He deserves a chance to try and weather this storm and then set about the rebuilding process that is so sorely needed.

A rebuilding process that will inevitably involve a massive turnover in players. I've written before that a number of players in the Hibs squad would fit into a number of SPL squads. They are not all diabolically bad footballers, they're mainly just average.

Every squad has average players. But Hibs have pulled off the bamboozling trick of having a squad consisting almost entirely of average players. With no leadership, a lack of creativity and few options in key areas. The result of that shambolic recruiting policy is evident every time the team takes to the pitch.

There is also the strange scenario of having more than a dozen of the first team squad at the end of their contracts. I've not known a situation like this before.

It presents Hibs with a dilemma. It makes the rebuilding process in the summer easier. But it also means that the majority of any given starting eleven know their future at the club is decided and that the manager would replace most of them tomorrow if he could.

It can't be a coincidence that they are playing like dead men walking. Why try any harder when they are at a club that doesn't want them? Grit, determination and graft are too often overrated attributes in British football.

But if, as seems likely, Hibs are involved in a bottom six relegation battle they could become precious commodities. Right now they are in short supply at Easter Road.

It is, of course, the board that have allowed this situation to develop. Rod Petrie has delivered financial stability to Hibs. He's delivered a training ground. And he's delivered a finished stadium.

All great achievements that deserve to be applauded. But he has failed to deliver the footballing side of his remit.

The turnover of managers, the profitable syphoning off of players and the general level of inconsistency over the past few years can't be ignored. And the board, and Rod Petrie in particular, must take a generous share of the blame.

However much the bank manager likes the policy of selling big and buying low it typifies a lack of investment on the footballing side that is now haunting Hibs. And, ironically, Hibs are one of the few SPL teams who could afford to never be in this position with just a little, managed, investment in players.

Increasingly I feel that the summer's rebuilding, which might still be in preparation for a promotion push, should begin with a new man in charge of the boardroom.

That is not to belittle everything that Petrie has done for Hibs. But it might just be time to start afresh.

So there we have it. To differing extents we can blame John Hughes, Colin Calderwood, the players and Rod Petrie. The result of their mistakes is an unseemly mess, a situation that is increasingly desperate.

For now all the fans can do is watch and wait.

And hope.

Rod Petrie's Statement On Hibs' Problems

Not always the most loquacious of men Rod Petrie today released a statement on recent events. Not convinced a "wall of sound" will make up for the more glaring playing deficiencies:

"Supporters have been in touch with the Club directly today, and over the past few weeks, expressing their frustration about recent performances and results. This feedback is not ignored, nor dismissed, but responded to as quickly as possible.

The pain of another early exit from the Scottish Cup is real and lasting. Every supporter feels it. The players and coaching staff feel it. The Manager feels it. And the Board feels it. We are Hibernian and we are all in this together.

The Hibernian support at Somerset Park was noisy and vocal and supported the team to the final whistle. It was all that the players could have wished for and we thank those that made the trip last night.

Professional sport is brutal - the margin between success and failure can be the width of a post, or a ricochet in the penalty box where the ball falls kindly for the opposing team.That brutality makes it compelling, and an emotional roller coaster.

We need to harness our emotions to create a positive environment for the team to perform.That's why the travelling support at Somerset Park and, indeed, the Singing Section at Easter Road Stadium have been an inspiration.That support is vital now as we gear ourselves up for a demanding second half of the Season.

The Board remains focused on our core principles. We will continue to listen to and consult with supporters through forums, meetings and on match days. We are committed to continuing the excellent work of the Academy in developing young players. And we will do what we have always done and continue to support the Manager to the very limit of our resources in bringing new players to the Club and shaping the squad the way he wants it.

We have been working consistently with Colin since he arrived to identify how we can improve things in this Transfer Window and again in the Summer. The lack of new faces so far is not a 'policy decision' or the lack of effort from the Manager and his coaching staff or willingness and resource from the Board. This is a difficult window in which to make changes and things tend to happen towards the end of the window rather than at the start of it. We've done it before and we will do it again.

Scott Lindsay and I had our regular, scheduled meeting with the Manager and Scouting Co-ordinator earlier today to review progress on the many enquiries which have been made so far. While your Club always seeks to go about its business in a quiet and professional way, you should not mistake this for a lack of effort, commitment or activity. We will re-double our efforts to add some fresh faces in this window for the fight ahead.

Make no mistake, it will be a fight. We have missed out on the Scottish Cup Final but we now have a number of 'cup finals' in the league programme ahead. Silky football or ugly football, it is getting points that matters. It is points that will now define our Season.

We all need to play our part to win that fight. That means turning Easter Road Stadium into a fortress both on and off the pitch. It needs to be a wall of sound, supporting those privileged enough to wear the green and white - no matter what the score - from the first to the final whistle.

The players want to win. The fans want to win. The Board wants to win. We all want to be competing at the top of the SPL, in the latter stages of the Cups, and in regular European competition. We are all passionate about Hibernian, the club that means so much to us all. Together we are stronger. Pulling together we can get back to winning ways."

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