Hibernian: Paul Heckingbottom and what let him down at Easter Road

By Brian McLauchlinBBC Scotland
Fans give their say for the managerial posts at Hearts & Hibernian.

When Paul Heckingbottom arrived at Easter Road in February, the vast majority of the Hibernian support asked "Paul who?" at the sight of their new manager.

But the Yorkshireman had come with an impressive CV in hand. He had led Barnsley to a Football League Trophy triumph and promotion to the Championship in 2016 during a spell in interim charge, before consolidating their position in England's second tier after getting the job on a full-time basis.

He then took over at Leeds United, only to be shown the door after four months, something several other Elland Road managers can sympathise with.

Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster said: "With the structure we already have in place, Paul is the right person to embrace that support and take it to a new level."

And it all started incredibly well with just one defeat in his opening 11 games in charge and the club making the jump up the Scottish Premiership table from eighth to fifth. There was a notable victory over Hearts at Tynecastle and draws against both halves of the Old Firm at Easter Road. All looked rosy.

However, the season ended on a damp note, without a win in the post-split fixtures, culminating in three straight defeats.

New faces have let Heckingbottom down

Yet, Heckinbottom was never one to get too excited when things were going well and, at the same time when results would go against him, would always try to find a positive.

Over the summer, Hibs were priced out of moves for Stephane Omeonga and Marc McNulty, who had impressed on half-season loans.

Marvin Bartley was allowed to leave for Livingston, while fellow midfield anchor Mark Milligan was denied the option of a second year, despite the experienced Australia captain having made 31 appearances in his first campaign.

Funso Ojo was lined up as a replacement in that holding role but a deal collapsed over confusion in contract clauses, with the Belgian then choosing Aberdeen.

Leeann Dempster and Paul Heckinbgottom
Hibs CEO Leeann Dempster with Paul Heckingbottom during his unveiling in February

Other targets were recruited - lots of them - but by and large those signings would let Heckingbottom down.

Somewhere in the region of £300,000 was spent on Christian Doidge and the striker was joined by midfielders Josh Vela, Joe Newell and Melker Hallberg as well as defenders Adam Jackson and Tom James.

After injuries to winger Martin Boyle and club captain David Gray, loan moves were arranged for Glenn Middleton and Jason Naismith.

The club invested heavily in a major squad overhaul and fans were told players would be "taken to levels of fitnessexternal-link they have not known before".

Lamentable league form leads to departure

Alarm bells began to ring with some less than convincing displays in the League Cup group phase as Heckingbottom rotated his new look team.

A late goal earned victory over St Mirren at Easter Road on the opening weekend of the Premiership but there hasn't been a league win in 10 attempts since then, with a 6-1 trouncing at Ibrox following.

The manager called his players "soft" as they fell apart at Fir Park, while a remarkable habit of throwing away leads added to fans' frustration.

Against St Johnstone, Hearts, Celtic, 10-man Aberdeen and Hamilton, Heckingbottom's side scored first and failed to win. Against Ross County, a 2-0 lead was surrendered.

At home to Livingston last Wednesday that trend came to a juddering halt as the visitors went into the interval 2-0 up, with Easter Road a cacophony of angry boos. A point was salvaged on that occasion, thanks to a stoppage-time equaliser from the returning Boyle.

Extra-time wins against Morton and Kilmarnock steered Hibs into the last four of the League Cup but the underdogs struggled to shift tickets and Celtic scored five at Hampden on Saturday, prompting the club's American owner Ron Gordon to take action.

Heckingbottom will undoubtedly bounce back. He is an intelligent man, with a Masters degree in sports coaching, and will appeal to chairmen up and down the country.

Whether that will be in Scotland, however, is debatable. Very few Englishman make the move north of the border for a second time after a failed appointment.

The Easter Road job will be an attractive one for many. A magnificent stadium can generate an awesome atmosphere when all is going well and the training ground in East Lothian has terrific facilities.

The fans demand better than they have witnessed in recent months and it's now up to Gordon and his board to make an appointment that will lift the team away from relegation worries and maintain the increased level of support the club has enjoyed since their Scottish Cup triumph in 2016.

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