Back Home Again

IMG_6465.JPG
Well its been a while. Nearly 4 months to be precise. I think the shock of us finally wrapping up the Championship title at long last sent me into Hibernation. But I’m fully refreshed, and already enjoying our return to the Premiership.

It felt odd for us to have our season finished in early May for the first time in a while, and even weirder for our last few games to be meaningless, but it was lovely to be able to sit back and enjoy the play offs for once. They’re actually quite entertaining eh!! Who would’ve known!!

Once the season ended, it all became about rebuilding for the season ahead. I have to say, I’m really pleased with the business done over the summer. Ok, there was points in July where some of us started to get a bit nervy, but now we’re basically done, our overall business is impressive. Our squad is now slightly smaller, but I’d say it now has more quality, plus we have some players from the academy who look ready to be fully involved in the first team.

I was delighted to see us get Ofir Marciano in permanently. Although he wasn’t overly troubled during last season, he has a calmness about him, which seems to breed to the defence, he is capable of outstanding saves, and definitely has a touch of class about him. He’s probably the best keeper we’ve had in 15-20 years.

We’ve added great experience to the defence in Whittaker and Ambrose. Efe had a number of doubters to prove wrong last season, and he done so with ease. Hopefully he continues in that vain. He will be under more pressure from attackers than he previously was in the Championship or at Celtic so hopefully he copes with it, as on his day he is a class apart. Whittaker is also a very shrewd move. We’ve already seen him perform at right back and centre mid during pre season, and I’m sure as the season goes on we’ll see him appear at left back and either side of the midfield. Despite his age, he’s clearly still fit, and has much more awareness than the young lad that left us 10 years ago.

In midfield we lost Fraser Fyvie, and Andy Shinnie, but early signs indicate that Slivka and Swanson will be upgrades. Slivka is a very intruiging signing. Good enough to be on the books of Juventus and play regularly in the 2nd divisions in Holland and Italy, as well as being a key man for the Lithuanian national team. He appears to be comfortable on the ball and can play in several different midfield roles.

The biggest area to sort was always going to be the forward line. In Cummings, Holt and Keatings we lost 29 leagues goals from last season. I feel that Lennon always intended to try and get these goals from other areas of the pitch, but in Simon Murray we’ve brought in a hard working, quick striker who can get in behind the defence. He seems a good finisher but isn’t quite as technical a player as Jason was. He’s had a really strong pre-season, surpassing most people’s expectations, but now is when the real test will come. I think some people forget tho that he does have some Premier league experience, scoring 7 goals in Dundee Utd relegation season. That was his first time at that left and he wasn’t a regular so I feel he’ll prove an important addition as the season passes. Our next signing in this area was to replace the cult hero, Grant Holt. Neil Lennon clearly likes to have a big strong target man as an option so he can adjust his tactics when required, and Davydas Matulevicious, or Big Peas & Gravy as me and my mates call him, certainly fits that mould. We’re yet to see too much of him but he has international experience, has played at a decent level and certainly looks more mobile than Holt. I’m sure he’ll be an important player when we need to be a bit more direct in matches.
And then finally, we all knew we needed a “key” player up front. Someone with that extra bit of quality, and someone to get the fans excited. It’s fair to say, Anthony Stokes ticks those boxes. Yes it was drawn out, and yes he’s lacking match sharpness, but the fact he turned down more financially rewarding offers elsewhere tells me he wants to be here, and secondly, we all know what this man is capable of when he gets up to full speed. He’s also a big game player, which we certainly have more of in this division.

And apparently, as far as transfer activity goes, with 3 weeks still to go, that’s us all done. Personally, if that’s the case, then I’m fine with that. We’ve got a side full of quality, capable of lining up in several different formations, and able to adjust to different tactics, BUT, I have a feeling we’re not done yet. Most still expect Brian Graham to leave, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us bring another one in. My choice would be another wide player; left wing preferably, and Lennon certainly implied in last week’s press conference that he has one particular position in mind if he did manage to add to the squad, so we may still have some interest in transfer deadline day after all!! There is still the possibility of Kris Commons being added too. Both he and Lennon have spoken about it recently, and it seems that it just all depends on if Kris thinks he is up to playing at this level still after his back op.

Pre-season was interesting with us playing in the group stages of the league cup for the first time. I know some people aren’t necessarily fans of the set up, but I quite enjoyed having competitive games so early, especially seeing as we dealt with our group games pretty well. Although Lennon said the games were being treated as pre-season, it at least gave the games a bit of an edge, and the Ross County game gave us a wee test at the level we’ll be playing at this season. The games also allowed Simon Murray to get some competitive goals under his belt which is great.

It is great for the season to finally be up and running properly though. I spent all of last week looking forward to the match on Saturday (whoever would’ve thought that would be said about a league game against Partick Thistle), and the game didn’t disappoint. We started slowly, and Thistle deserved their lead. While Efe maybe misjudged the pass and tried to intercept, it was a nice through back and a good finish by Erskine. That goal seemed to bring us to life though, and although there was a slice of luck involved in how the ball broke to Boyle, he finished neatly to get us back on terms. I felt it was really one way traffic after that. We controlled the game well and Simon Murray ran himself into the ground to act as our first line of defence. Once we scored the penalty to make it 3-1, it felt like we then made the decision to almost play the game out, make no rash decisions to leave us short at the back, and just make sure we took all 3 points. A 3-1 win against a team that finished top 6 last season isn’t to be sniffed at, and we can now confidently move onto Ibrox next week.

Talking of Ibrox, it will be a very interesting day next Saturday. Hibs fans aren’t welcomed much anyway to Ibrox, but seeing as this is the first meeting since THAT day in May last year, it certainly adds some further spice to the game. Players like Wallace, Miller, Tavernier, will all be up for the game, and their fans even more so. On a serious note, I hope the police are switched on as I feel the Hibs fans will be running the gauntlet a bit when entering and leaving the stadium, never mind being offered cups of Bovril and coins during the game from the home end. Hopefully we return along the M8 with 3pts and nothing else.

The result of the early Cup groups meant the Round of 16 is upon us already, with us entertaining Ayr this evening. This is a game we can’t take lightly. Ayr have been banging the goals in so far and know how it feels to win at Easter Road in the last 12 months. If we go about our business correctly though, we should be in the Quarter final draw tomorrow evening. Hopefully we see some of the players that didn’t fully feature on Saturday such as Slivka, Big Peas & Gravy, and maybe a start for Stokes. The more match sharp he is for Saturday, the better; although James Tavernier may not agree!!

It is great to be back where we belong though. There was a real buzz around the stadium on Saturday and we really are a different beast than we were 3-4 years ago. We feel as if we are finally heading in the RIGHT direction, and it feels enjoyable again. A feeling we probably didn’t have for 3-4 seasons before our relegation. Long may it continue!!!

Advertisements

Takin’ care of Business

That noise heard throughout the central belt at around 16.50 on Saturday was the collective sigh of relief coming from Leith as Hibs were finally confirmed as Championship winners, meaning we are back in the Scottish Premier League next season. It was a funny one to celebrate. A lot of people were saying it shouldn’t be celebrated at all as it was embarrassing that we were even in that position, but I’m pretty sure when the likes of Leeds Utd & Nottingham Forest return to the top table in English football, they will enjoy it. As should we. Ok, it isn’t worthy of open top buses and 3 day celebrations, but the team on the park weren’t the team that got us relegated, and they still had to go out and be the best team in the league over 36 games, plus, we hardly win a LOT of trophies, so its always nice to see your team lift a bit of silverware. I have a 12 year old son who was absolutely over the moon on Saturday and ran about like a nutter with his “Champions” flag down Easter Road after the match – that in itself is worth celebrating.

We certainly have made it harder than has been required over the course of the season. We’ve drawn a fair few games that we should have won, but on the same token, we’ve dug out draws and wins with late goals which have ended up proving vital. While the flair of the team hasn’t matched the team of the last couple of seasons, the grit and determination has exceeded it. Going to Easter Road on Saturday, there was an air of expectation, and while there was the jokes that we would probably draw yet AGAIN, to me it had the feeling of one of these games we’ve had over the last few years that when the team knew what they had to do, they went out and did it – Dundee Utd in January, Raith Rovers in last seasons play offs and Dunfermline a few years ago when we were close to relegation and had to play them in a Monday night televised game and were 3-0 up after about 20 minutes. I just felt the team would go out and get on with their business. And that they did. Again there were plenty missed chances, but it was nice to see us clinical from set pieces. I also thought Lennon got it right playing Fyvie, McGeouch and McGinn together, and Harris also looked good when he came on. While I really don’t see a career for the lad at Hibs, it would be great to see him back to what we all remember when he first came onto the scene. Something else that was memorable about Saturday was the poor stewards that had to put half a dozen crash barriers in front of the stands and connect them with red tape – they really must’ve wondered what they were being asked to do, but it certainly gave the supporters a laugh – it really was one of those “only in Scottish Football” moments!!

So finally we can put the league on the back burner. It was always the priority, and while it WOULD’VE been nice to have it wrapped up weeks ago, we still have it done with 3 games to go and can now allow ourselves to fully focus on retaining the Scottish Cup (that STILL sounds surreal).  Winning the cup last season meant absolutely everything, and while everyone said it (almost) became an irrelevance this season, it was always important to put up a half decent defence of the trophy, I mean, how embarrassing  would it have been to be knocked out in the first round we had played in after winning it!? Who does that!!!??? Haha! So we have at least done that, and to get another day out to Hampden is fantastic. I know there was a bit of fun originally in the “Here we go, 2 in a row” song, but we are starting to believe it when we sing it, and quite rightly. Don’t get me wrong, Aberdeen are a very decent side in Scottish football terms. They are very dangerous going forward. BUT, as shown against Rangers, they can sometimes be a bit ropey at the back. We on the other hand are very solid at the back, and while we don’t score a LOT of goals, we are capable of making plenty chances, and have players that will punish teams. We also are now very experienced in big games. As well as the majority of our squad that has been to Hampden several times over the last 3 seasons, including a Scottish Cup final win, we have the likes of Grant Holt, Efe Ambrose & Ofir Marciano who all have big game experience. Aberdeen on the other hand don’t always seem to perform well in the big games, so its going to be very interesting. If I’m completely honest, I’m thinking an Aberdeen win by the odd goal, but my heart says we sneak a win late on in normal time. Whatever happens tho, we’ll have close to 20k Hibs fans cheering the team on which is fantastic for a semi final. It really shows how much the fans have backed the team since the cup win. There was a bit of a myth in recent years that the last time we got promoted with Alex McLeish in charge we averaged 14k home fans. We didn’t. We hit that figure a few times through the season but it certainly wasn’t the average. This time tho, we are averaging over 15k, and already nearly 8k fans have bought season books for next season, which includes around 1k NEW season ticket holders. If we win on Saturday, I can really see us smashing the 12k target. We really are a club on the up at the minute, it feels great and while there’s still a LOT to play for this season, I already can’t wait for next season.

Our promotion at the weekend got me thinking about a hypothetical question, and maybe some of you can give me your thoughts on this one. On the day after we got relegated in 2014 you were given the option of guaranteed promotion the very next season, but no hampden trips, or 3 seasons in the championship, 2 cup finals, a scottish cup win, 3 further hampden appearances, 7 games unbeaten against Hearts while knocking them out of the cup twice, and a trip to Europe, what would you have chosen? Reading it like that, it would be the latter option for me! Now, I’m not saying that its been a GOOD thing spending 3 years in this league (I certainly will not miss trips to Alloa, Cowdenbeath, Morton and Dumfries) but I tell you what, its certainly been one hell of a ride!!

This is an Emergency!

img_2542
I’ve spent the morning with a wee ditty buzzing round my head that I saw on YouTube on Monday. It’s to the tune of the Carnival De Paris song that us Hibs fans sing, except this version ends, Efe Ambrose, Efe Ambrose, Efe Ambrose Ballon D’or. I’ve tried my best to block it out, but Just like “We Are Hibs” after the Edinburgh Derby, this one is stuck in my head for a good wee while yet I imagine.

Before the Derby replay, I talked about how well we battled in the first game and how I had a feeling we would go with a similar starting line-up in the replay to give Hearts a battle, before maybe releasing some pace later in the game. How wrong was I!? We saw a similar setup to the Dundee Utd game at the start of January with the plan of hitting Hearts in the wings, except this time we gave up some space to Hearts (in theory) in the middle of the park, and went with the battering ram that is Grant Holt alongside Jason up front. It worked to a tee, although after 2 minutes I thought, oh here we go again, as we lost Chris Humphrey to injury and he was replaced by the much maligned Andrew Shinnie. Lennon and the team took it in their stride with Boyle switching to the right and Shinnie playing on the left but drifting in regularly to join the other central midfielders. Boyle absolutely roasted Sowah for the first 30 minutes in particular. Sowah just couldn’t get to grips with Boyle’s “knock and run” technique, and it was great to watch, while on the other side, I feel Shinnie had his best performance in a Hibs shirt.
There is very little of the game to be critical of. From pre-kick off, the Hibs fans were magnificent, and from the first whistle, every player gave their all, feeding from the crowd and giving them a performance to be proud of. A lot had been made in the buildup to how Hearts were gonna benefit from our pitch (it has grass on it for a start), and players like Goncalves were very vocal in how they were now ready for us after getting the measure of us in the first game. They now knew how fast the game would be played at, and mainly, they knew that we were nothing but a physical team. Oh really??? Hibs fans have long been critical of our own players shouting their mouths off before big games, only to watch it come back to bite them, so it was nice to see it reversed for once. I said previously that I had believed the hype slightly around players like Tziolis, Hughes, Goncalves. I was more relaxed about the replay but still felt that they had players that could hurt us, but in all honesty, the likes of Tziolis and Martin really did not seem to learn from the first game. The amount of time they expected on the ball was unreal, and even although we only had 2 central midfielders against Hearts 3, you would have thought that it was US that had the numerical advantage in there rather than them. And as for Goncalves, well our centre halves had him for breakfast on the whole, and he is going to have to learn to reign in his frustration as he is very petulant.
Anyway, I don’t want to dwell to much on Hearts’ shortcomings as that would take away from how well we played. I think most of the team had a shout to be man of the match, and Lennon got things bang on again. I have been critical of Lennon at points in the season, but when it has come to the big games, so far he has got things absolutely spot on.
At half time I had all types of things running through my head, things that were probably shared by a number of hibs fans. “we were 2-0 down at half time last season. History reversed?”. Well if I was rational about it, even at 2-0 down last season, we’d probably been the better team. This year at 2-0 up, we had absolutely destroyed them. The 3rd was a huge sigh of relief, but when they got the penalty, there was a few minutes of trepidation on my part, but that soon subsided (slightly) when I realised how comfortable we were. My biggest issue with the game was that we never took 5 or 6 off them. Whenever they play well, they’ll get 6 chances and score 3, 4 or 5 of them. Whenever we play well against them, we’ll tend to score 1 or 2 (or none). In fact, last Wednesday was the first time we’d scored more than 2 goals in a win against them since the 6-2 game. Typical really.

And then we were all brought back down to earth against Dunfermline on Saturday. Although I feel we’ve managed to shake this “Hibsed it” label since 21/05/16, I do think there’s still a lot of fans that get that “typical Hibs” feeling. Beat Hearts but draw with Dunfermline and Raith. I thought we started great – came flying out the blocks in fact, and when we went 2-0 up you felt it could be a cricket score. Then Sir David makes a daft mistake at the back to let them back in the game, and then if we’re honest, it was pretty one sided from Dunfermline’s point of view. I thought they played well, and to be honest, it felt like we stole a point. So while it may be disappointing that we again missed an opportunity to stretch the lead at the top, it probably really was a point gained, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at Full time. Shout out to Ofir Marciano tho, who was superb. Some of his saves were simply top class, and definitely kept us in the game.

And that takes us to tonight. Away to St Mirren. A team that now find themselves 8 points adrift at the bottom of the league even although they seem to have hit a wee bit of form. The one thing to our advantage is, they won’t be able to play for a draw tonight. They desperately need the points so will need to push for a win. That could suit us to the ground.
I know we keep saying that EVERY game is now huge, and its true, but the next 2 games will show us if its going to be a comfortable end to the season or a fight to the death. Win tonight and don’t lose to Utd and I think that should be that. 10pts with 10 games left (for Utd) leaves them just too much to do. Draw tonight and lose next week and its 5pts with them having a game in hand. Far too close for comfort. Both teams will still drop points so if we get the win and win/draw from the next 2 games, there will just not be enough games left for anyone to catch us.

But of course the biggest talking point leading into tonights games is the players who could play at centre half for us. Hibs today confirmed the emergency loan signing of Efe Ambrose, and the short term signing of Brian McLean. Now Hibs have received a LOT of flak for the Ambrose signing in particular, due it it being on this confusingly named “emergency loan”. It’s a shame so many folk are happy to be ignorant on subjects and carry on with their bashing of people, clubs, etc, when a wee bit of research would explain things. So an emergency loan does NOT need to be an emergency. It doesn’t need to be approved by the SPFL, and the club doesn’t need to explain WHY they are signing a certain player in a certain position. From the Scottish Championship down, clubs are allowed to make 2 emergency loan signings outside the window as long as they haven’t already had 5 loan signings from other Scottish clubs, and haven’t already had 2 over 21 signings on loan from other Scottish Clubs. So what Hibs have done is perfectly within the rules. Yes they’ve used their contacts and seen Commons and Ambrose brought in as these 2 emergency loans, players that are a much higher standard than other Championship teams could have hoped to bring in in these circumstances. And that seems to be the real bugbear amongst other fans. Maybe it is a silly ruling, but it was probably created without the likes of Hibs, Hearts, Rangers, Dundee Utd in mind. Now that these clubs have been in this division and Hibs in particular have taken full advantage of the ruling, maybe the ruling will be adjusted so that its purely for genuine emergencies. Although I would argue that there is a genuine defensive crisis at Hibs this week with all 4 senior centre halves unavailable for the Cup game on Saturday, so the Ambrose signing may well have been ratified anyway!!
What I do find hilarious is that the same fans that are bleating that Hibs are flouting the rules, are then faux laughing at how terrible the signing of Efe Ambrose is. Yes, the same Efe Ambrose that’s played over 120 times for the best team in the country, has over 50 caps for Nigeria and has won the African Nations Cup. There’s no doubting that he’s made a few high profile errors, but I feel he was made a bit of a scapegoat at Celtic and I’m comfortable that he will be a MORE than adequate addition for the remainder of the season. If folk really think he’s that bad, why on earth are they that upset that we’ve signed him. I’ve even seen Falkirk fans say that their title challenge is now back on. REALLY?????

And the final thing I want to mention is… THAT season ticket promotional video. I made the error of quickly watching the video just before I went to drive away from Tesco car park. What a mistake that was. I needed the windscreen wipers on for my eyes. Yet another fantastic piece of promo from Hibs. The last few years they have got them absolutely spot on. I have to admit tho, it took me 2 or 3 watches before I clicked as to what the main guy in the video got up to on the night of the cup final! Shame on Him! There was singing & drinking to do, and the recording of the full match to be watched!!!

2 Tribes!

img_2344
Are we really already in to the 2nd half of February? When I sat down to start thinking about what my main topics were going to be for this entry of my blog, I quickly checked the date of my last entry and couldn’t believe it was the 30th December. This season really is flying by (although I’m told that a lot to do with getting older!)

Anyway, I left my last blog by convincing myself that 2016 had been a very good year, which ultimately it was. But I think at that point I was trying to give myself a boost for all things Hibs as we’d just fallen 2pts behind Dundee Utd in the race for the title. Little was I to know that we were going to put in such a convincing performance against that very team a week later, after a good away win against Falkirk. And as we continued to chip away with solid results, Dundee Utd continued to stutter, to the point where we built up an 8pt lead at the top. I personally think our results over that period really were excellent. We had a home game against the team that were battling us for the title, and who we hadn’t beaten in 2 previous games, alongside away games to Falkirk, Dumbarton and Queen Of The South. You win the league over the course of the season, but I think when the dust settles on this season and we do win the league, then it will be the January results for both us and Dundee Utd which will prove to have been absolutely pivotal.

January was also an interesting month as it was the month we were expecting to see 3 or 4 new faces added to the team. It started strongly from that point of view, with Chris Humphrey being added from Preston very quickly, and we were mostly delighted with that as we had all been crying out for more pace and width which is exactly what we were expecting from Humphrey. More on that shortly! As the month went on, we continued to get linked to various names and had several players on trial. We were all quickly checking google and YouTube to find out what Dylan Connolly, Fausto Rossi, Enzo Reale, Nikolai Alho and Aaron Kovar (amongst others) were all about, as well as seeing recognised names such as Danny Swanson, Peter Pawlett, Stevie May, and Ryan Christie all get linked with the club. We had the long running Kris Commons saga, and to top it all off, we nearly ended the window by signing the legend that is Anthony Stokes (although most Elvis impersonators won’t agree). There was even the drama of us pretty much having the Stirling Albion superstar Dylan Bikey all signed up, only for Hearts to announce him that same day. It was amazing how quickly he went from being a potential superstar to being League 2 rubbish amongst the Hibs support!!

And yet after all those linked names, all we got added to Humphrey was 2 short term goalkeeper deals. Straight away there were 2 arguments going – we should have enough to win this league, or, if we don’t win this league it will be down to the business done in January. Now I probably agreed with both those statements. I think we all like to be excited by new signings, and Lennon had said himself that he felt the squad was a bit thin. To this day we’re still seeing trialists brought in, but it seems that we will no longer just be adding players to the squad just for the sake of it like days of old. I do think our transfer business as a whole has been average at best during Lennons 2 transfer windows. I’m not sure if we have as much ability in the squad as we had this time last year, but we probably have a bit more steel about us. That’s probably a lot down to our experiences of last season though.

Now back to Chris Humphrey. I was delighted when he signed, and even more delighted after his first 45 minutes in a Hibs shirt, when the likes of him and Boyle destroyed Dundee Utd. But if truth be told, he’s been pretty much anonymous since then. Now I dunno if he’s been struggling for fitness, but in the recent game against Ayr, he was simply a waste of a jersey. He looked slow (was beaten in a sprint by former Hibee Paul Cairney, which says a LOT) low in confidence, and generally disinterested. He was rightly taken off at half time, and we did improve in the second half of that game. Now I’m hoping this is just a blip. Having a fit, interested Humphrey like the one that played in the first half against Utd could be a vital ingredient to our squad in the next 3 months. More of the same from the Ayr game, and I doubt we’ll see much more of him.

That Ayr game was indeed disappointing all round. Especially as we all got home in time to see Dundee Utd thump Raith 3-0 and close the gap to 6pts. We all worried beforehand that the players might have had another certain game on their mind (as most of the fans certainly did) and it did seem to be the case. The defending for the first goal was poor, and the rest of that first half performance was one of the worst I’ve seen in a long while. When you look back at that type of game, you realise that actually, on another day you would have won it by 3 or 4 goals, as we certainly created the chances to do just that, but in the heat of the game its easy to get frustrated when we look devoid of ideas.

6pts suddenly becomes a bit of a tricky gap, especially when we still have another trip to Tannadice to come, BUT, last weekends Falkirk victory against Dundee Utd was a welcome result for us (and I won’t say that very often regarding a Peter Houston team getting a win I can assure you) and now we have a great chance this weekend to open up the gap to 9 points as we play our game in hand against Raith Rovers. The game being John Hughes first in charge certainly will add to the story of the day, but you’ve got to think that we should have enough to get the 3 points. Based on recent away games, a 1-0 win would probably be a good bet. Even if we do only go into the game with only one fit centre half.

And finally, let’s look at that game that’s been at the front of all Edinburgh football fans minds for the last few weeks, the Scottish Cup Derby.

It’s been an interesting few weeks since the draw was made. Initially we didn’t know if we were going to be playing Hearts or Raith, and to be fair to Raith they certainly kept the tie interesting. Their second half performance in the first game probably was deserved of winning the whole tie, but it wasn’t to be and so the Edinburgh Derby frenzy began. Initially I was delighted with it. These are the games you look forward to, but I’ll be honest, as the game got closer, I got more nervous about it. We saw Hearts smash Rangers and then stroll to victory against Motherwell. I kept telling myself that Rangers had gifted them 4 goals and the Motherwell game was even until the dodgy sending off, but I read a lot about Hearts new superstars, and you do start to believe it.

I’ve been pretty critical of Lennon at times since he came in, but I have to say, he used his big match experience and got his tactics absolutely bang on last Sunday. Ok, the game wasn’t pretty, but that pitch was awful, so Lennon used his “sturdier” players to his advantage, and made sure players like world class international superstar Alexandros Tziolis were constantly under pressure. Grant Holt played the game exactly as you would hope he would and Marvin Bartley gave a VERY Bartley-esque performance. He was simply outstanding and completely bossed the middle of the park. It will be interesting to see how we line up in the replay, seeing as the pitch is bigger and better quality, but I have a feeling we may well go out with similar tactics and look to stifle Hearts ball players. Theres no doubt that if the likes of Walker, Nicholson, Djoum and Goncalves are given room, then they have the ability to cause damage, so Lennon may look to keep it tight and then hope that the likes of McGinn, Keatings & Cummings can nick a goal and get us through to a home Quarter final tie against Ayr.

The real man of the match for me tho was the Hibs fans. The fallout from Hearts fans since the match has been simply hilarious. Lets get some things clear. They have spent YEAR lording it over us. They loved the fact that we could not seem to win that Scottish Cup, and the fact of that gave them a number of songs. Last Season, the fact we came back from 2-0 down and went on to win the cup is a HUGE bugbear of theirs. While they keep on telling us it will never match beating your rivals 5-1 in a final, deep down they KNOW that that result from 2012 really doesn’t bother us any more. We broke that 114 streak, and got to beat them in the process, after being 2 goals down, while being a division below. Hibs fans showed up on Sunday with 2 aims – getting behind our cup winners and ramming it down their throats that we won the cup. From 9am the Pubs around the Murrayfield area were absolutely bouncing with Hibs fans waving flags and inflatable trophies. This continued into the stadium, and as the Hibs fans got louder and louder as the game went on, the Hearts fans slumped further into their seats, knowing they had very little to sing back at us, occasionally flashing a 5-1 sign to try and feel better, but knowing inside that it had no impact on a single Hibs fan that caught a glimpse of them doing it.

That cup win has introduced several new songs to the Hibs fans songbook – We are hibs (ram yer 1902) along with songs about Darren Mcgregor, a magic hat, Andy Halliday, Anthony Stokes, and of course, Hibs trying to make it 2 in a row!! Meanwhile on the pink side of the city, the equivalent songbook has been greatly reduced. And this hurts them. When the final whistle went, the Hibs fans decided to keep on serenading the Hearts fans until every one of them had left the stadium, as the Hibbies knew that it was really killing their rivals. Since then we’ve seen them accuse Hibs fans of celebrating a draw. Nah guys, we were winding you up, and its clearly worked. So Hibees, lets get these trophies along to Easter Road on Wednesday, and lets yet again remind them that they were 2 nil up and they effed it up, then Hibs went on to lift the cup!! GGTTH

It was a very good year

img_1415

It can’t be a coincidence that one of the verses in Frank Sinatras famous song started with “When I was 35…..” – But then I suppose that only really works for me a a small percentage of other Hibs fans. Some people may debate whether 2016 was a “very good” one for Hibernian, but in the grand scheme of Scottish football it has to be seen as one.

The year started with a double header against Raith Rovers. The first game, in the league at Easter Road, was pretty drab. A week later we ventured up to Kirkcaldy ready to start yet another Scottish cup campaign. The papers were talking about 114 years and the fact we were still in the Championship, while Hibs fans clung on to the fact that Raith had been knocked out of the Scottish Cup in the previous 2 seasons by the eventual winners. We were gonna make it a hat trick! We could but dream!

The end of January brought the end of the transfer window. It had been an interesting one. We’d seen the departure of Cult hero Dominic Malonga, and the arrival of Chris Dagnall and returning hero Anthony Stokes. Its debatable whether this was a strong transfer window for us. The numerous cup games meant we were maybe too stretched in the league, and our form definitely suffered.

Cup games were coming thick and fast, and we found ourselves with 2 visits to Tynecastle. Firstly a league Cup semi final against St Johnstone. Here we showed yet again that we were good enough to mix it with most Premiership teams, and we ended that day dreaming of lifting the league cup.

Just a week later we were back at Tynecastle. I had been fortunate enough to be at Murrayfield the day before for Scotland v England in the 6 nations, and had spent a lot of the evening in the Murrayfield Hotel. Just a few hours later, I was back in there with a rugby-themed 2 pint plastic pint glass. Standing outside the hotel a roar went up as the Hibs team bus went past, and right at the front was John Doolan, beating the badge on his chest and roaring to the approving Hibees. His passion was plain to see, and it clearly was shared by the team that day. Now I am unfortunately fairly used to coming away from Tynecastle rather disappointed, and at half time the feeling was, it was gonna be another one of those days. Except, I really did wonder how we found ourselves 2 goals down. We’d been the better side, and as usual Hearts had scored 2 very good goals rather than scrappy penalty box efforts. Fair play to the fans, they kept on getting behind the players, and as the second half went on, it really did feel like a goal for us would really swing things in our favour. When Jason clipped the ball with his head, everything seemed to go in slow motion. The ball seemed to be in the air for ever, and it did look as if it was never going to come back down. When it did drop in the top corner, I think Cummings was as surprised as the rest of us. Boom, the Roseburn stand erupted. There was a feeling of relief, but mostly because we knew we were back in this game. We kept pressing and when lifelong Hibee Paul Hanlon hooked the ball into the Hearts net in the last minute, the away end was absolute carnage. From my seat in the back row, I somehow found myself at the bottom of the stand. My journey back to my seat took a good wee while as I hugged and hi fived every hibs fan I went past. As we left the stadium that day, I don’t think we were really thinking about winning the Scottish cup, just the fact that we’d come back from 2 goals down, and had a derby at Easter Road to now look forward to.

We made hard work of the replay. A very early goal left plenty time for nailbiting and goal mouth stramashes. The final whistle definitely meant relief, but also a superb rendition of Sunshine on Leith. I think that was the moment a lot of our newer players realised what it meant to be a Hibee. On we marched to the Quarter finals. We knew we’d now be playing the current holders, Inverness, but it was at Easter Road, so anything could happen, right?

As the Quarter final of the Scottish cup and the final of the league cup approached, our league form really suffered. 3 losses in a row to Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South was far from ideal preparation for 2 big cup games. But against all odds, we pulled out another decent performance against a Premiership team. A strong first half saw us take a 1-0 lead when as usual it could have been 3 or 4. This allowed Inverness to hang in and improve as the game went on, to the point that they probably deserved their equaliser when it came.

The following week, off we went to Hampden. A final against Ross County was the kind of game we all hoped for. In Hindsight I think too many fans went in to that game expecting to win. My 11 year old son was certainly one of them. Yet again we played well, and didn’t take our chances. Our downfall was probably the fact that we pushed for a winner in the final minutes, leaving us exposed, rather than waiting for extra time to push on again. County took advantage of this to leave the 30k+ Hibs fans devastated, and me with some serious consoling to do with my boy.

The talk on the bus on the way home was that we now had no chance in the Scottish cup replay in just 3 days time. There was no way we’d be able to pick ourselves up for that. The players would be physically and mentally shattered. Oh how they proved us wrong. They dug in and a Tony Stokes double set up another trip to Hampden. This time against Dundee Utd, a side we’d already disposed of fairly easily this season in the league cup.

You wonder if it was fatigue or if the cup games were simply causing players to take their eye off the ball, but between the Inverness game and the Semi Final, we managed 1 win in 5 games. Dundee Utd in the meantime were trying and failing to get themselves off bottom spot in the Premier league. It was probably 2 of the least in-form teams in the country going head to head in the semi final of the biggest cup competition in the country! I even remember one journalist doing an article saying that if either of these teams went on to win the cup, they shouldn’t be allowed to play in Europe!

Anyway, the Semi final arrived, and a lot of Hibs fans said they didn’t care and that the game didn’t matter. It wasn’t a view I shared – it was still the semi final of the Scottish Cup against a team we were capable of beating. The game probably went exactly as you would expect it to go considering the form of both sides. But there were 2 big talking points. Jason Cummings’ penalty, and Conrad Logan. The less said about Jason’s penalty the better. He clearly wanted to get his name on the back pages the next morning, and even with his miss he would have managed it if it wasn’t for a certain Polar bear. A lot of people were surprised to see Logan starting the game, and were even more surprised when they saw him in the flesh (as there was a lot of it). But he quickly showed why he’d been signed to a English Premiership team for so long as he made a string of saves during the match, and then went on to save 2 penalties in the shootout, even with his unorthodox technique as the penalty taker approached him!! As usual we’d done it the hard way, but we were back in another Cup Final. Although my mate probably wasn’t alone in his thinking as he turned to me on the way out and said “does that F****** mean we’ve got to come back here AGAIN?”

The semi seemed to give us a boost as we went on to beat Rangers 3-2 (sound familiar) in the league a few days later, and finished the normal league season off with 2 more wins and a draw.
The draw was enough to end the season in 3rd place, below Falkirk, and this meant a play off game against Raith Rovers. Another trip to Kirkcaldy this time ended in defeat, but the players clearly had a point to prove at Easter Road as they raced into a 2-0 lead and we held onto this to set up a double header against Falkirk.

Going into these games I was quite confident. Falkirk had been a thorn in our side over the past two seasons but in reality they’d rarely beaten us. In the first leg at Easter Road, we played pretty well over the game but as usual we came away lamenting what could have been – a stonewall penalty turned down, some clearcut chances missed and a bit of dodgy goalkeeping to allow a late equaliser. But we went to the away game knowing what we were capable of, and if we played to our best, we would beat them, surely! Well, the first 30 minutes did not go to plan. We were limp and Falkirk deservedly took the lead. Then from almost nowhere, James Keatings got a quickfire double to put us in the lead, and we looked the much better team from that point. In all honesty tho, Falkirk got away with a refereeing decision again, as McCracken should have been sent off for the penalty that Keatings scored. You’d think we’d have learned how dangerous Falkirk were at the end of games, but clearly not. Even at 2-2 tho, we still looked the more likely to win the game in normal time, hitting the bar twice in the dying minutes, before McHugh again struck a late winner. The saddest part was, as Falkirk took that late throw in, everyone knew what was coming next!

I was scunnered, and I could not be bothered even thinking about the cup final the following week. Another year in this division was simply not worth thinking about. It was the strangest build up to a cup final I’d ever had. No sleepless nights, no day dreaming about Hibs lifting the trophy and how we’d celebrate back in Edinburgh. I didn’t even book the Monday off work like I normally do (what a mistake that turned out to be)

Little did we know that all the pain of this season (and previous) was about to all go away. Our pre-match was superb, and then the match, well the match just couldn’t have gone better if it was scripted. In fact, I think if someone had written our cup run as a script, it would have been turned down as being too unrealistic, too romantic. That weekend will simply go down as my greatest ever as a football fan. From the match to the sponsors event to the parade, simply outstanding. Christmas was easy for most Hibs fans this year I’m sure, as the choice of Cup Final memorabilia is finally brilliant. I have to say, the 4 days that FOLLOWED the parade were not so great. I did not realise it was possible to be hungover 4 days after drinking. And my fragile state meant any reading of cup final events caused the tears to flow. Over and over and over again. No Matter what else happened this year, that weekend meant that 2016 will be a weekend to never forget for Hibs fans. The year the curse was broken. 114 years no more. #Persevered

The summer that followed saw managerial changes, with the now Legend Alan Stubbs depart for Costa Del Rotherham, replaced by Champions league expert Neil Lennon. Most fans were behind this appointment. It certainly seemed to show ambition. Some were unsure (myself included) and if truth be told, 6 months later, we are still none the wiser to whether or not he is going to prove a success. We saw some changes in the playing squad too with heros Stokes, Henderson, Logan, Thomson and Gunnarson all departing as well as Chris Dagnall who departed without scoring a single goal for the club in 11 appearances, Farid El Alagui and Mark Oxley. Coming in was experienced striker Grant Holt, Israeli international keeper Ofir Marciano, Andrew Shinnie, and backup keeper Ross Laidlaw. We probably did not do enough business if I’m honest, but maybe we were hampered due to expecting a big fine on the back of the cup final. In any case, strong pre-season performances including a Europa league away win in Brondby followed by 5 league wins to start the season took the focus away from transfers. Cummings was on fire after signing his new contract, and we seemed strong at the back.

Some dodgy refereeing decisions seemed to hamper us in the following games, with Bartley getting sent off twice. Cummings’ goals seemed to dry up which saw him dropped to the bench, and then injuries to McGinn & Fyvie left us desperately short in midfield. This brought back to the fore the fact that we probably didn’t recruit strongly enough in the summer. We plodded on tho, hanging on to top spot, while Dundee Utd seemed to be building momentum, to the point that on Christmas Eve, dropped points to Raith allowed Utd to jump above us to top spot.

In recent weeks we’ve seen Kris Commons added to the squad as an emergency loan. In the first 2 games we haven’t really seen much from him but hopefully he finds some form for the coming Falkirk and Dundee Utd games. We’ve also seen a string of players come in on trial so it certainly looks like we’ll be adding a couple more players in January. Defensively we are fine. We still have one of the goals conceded columns in Britain, but at the other end we are struggling to score more than once in a game, which is causing us real problems. Going into Christmas in 2nd spot was not how we planned it but there is still plenty time to get things right and win this league. That is all that matters this season. The fans are out in numbers on the back of the cup win, and to fully take advantage of that in the long term, we really need to get up this season, overwise those 11,300 season ticket holders may well return to 7000 next season if we are faced with another season visiting Dumbarton, Ayr and Greenock.

We’ve seen last minute defeats in cup finals and play offs, we’ve lost managers and fan favourites, we’ve beaten Rangers and Hearts but lost to Dumbarton and Ayr. Its Certainly been one helluva rollercoaster year. But thanks to the 21st May, it has undoubtedly been, A very Good Year.

Happy New year to all Hibees when it comes!!

All I want for Christmas

A year ago we were celebrating a 94th minute winner by Dom Malonga to bring us level at the top of the league, after we’d trailed them by 11 points at one point. It was impressive considering our poor start to the season. This year we are seeing an almost mirror image of that scenario, with us having a good start, pulling 7 points ahead of Dundee Utd, but now finding ourselves level on points with them going into Christmas.

When Alan Stubbs left in the summer and the talk was that we were in talks with Lennon, I was sceptical, and I said so in this blog, but I talked myself round focussing on the fact that he’d taken Celtic to the last 16 in the Champions League, beaten Barcelona and continually beaten teams in the league that played very defensively and were happy to snatch a draw against the Champions. In friendlies and our brief foray in Europe, I was quite excited. We seemed to be still trying to play football but were playing with width, and had addressed the fact that we needed a target man. We started the league well with 5 wins in a row, and if it wasn’t for Stephen Dobbie, we would probably have already been sitting a few points clear of any other team.
When the transfer window closed, I was slightly underwhelmed. I was pleased with the Shinnie signing and Marciano looked like a good move, but we still hadn’t brought in any real pace, and it looked like Lennon was going to be relying on Alex Harris coming good – I admired his optimism, but after seeing the lad over the last few seasons, I wasn’t alone in thinking he was never going to make it at Hibs. The squad seemed short on numbers and it wasn’t as if we’d used all the budget on a smaller but higher quality squad. But we were winning so we had to trust what was going on.

Fast forward to Saturday evening, and for the 3rd game in a row we witnessed a pretty poor Hibs performance. In fairness, the Dundee Utd game was a tale of 2 penalties, BUT, we didn’t really do enough to win the game out with those penalties. The Dumbarton game saw one of the worst opening 30 minutes I’d seen from a Hibs team in quite a while. The players looked as if they had no idea what they were meant to be doing and we struggled to put more than 2 or 3 passes together. It did get slightly better, and we saw out the 2-0 win, with people rightly saying it was all about the 3pts and winning ugly wins titles. Onto Saturday, and we’re all excited to see Kris Commons starting. In all honesty, I really wasn’t expecting much from him. It was his first 1st team start since March so the game was probably more about getting some sharpness for the weeks ahead. But if the players felt any boost from having Commons in the team, they didn’t show it, and it required a fantastic free kick from Cummings to rescue a point. Now the argument for this game is, Morton haven’t lost at home all season, and for all these 3 games, we were missing our 2 best players in McGinn and Fyvie. My worry is though, we ALWAYS have an excuse. When we lost to Ayr, it was due to Bartley getting sent off, but in all honesty we fell apart for 5 minutes after the red card where we should have been professional enough to see the game out. As the season goes on, people are still saying “we’ll pull away”, and “we’re still top”. Well there’s no denying that we’re still top, but in these first 17 games we have had numerous opportunities to create a real gap at the top of the league and we’ve failed to do so, and is anyone really confident that our current style of play is going to keep us above a Dundee Utd team that have gelled much quicker than expected and are really working for their manager.

January is now huge – whatever the reasons were for us not bringing in the real quality that was required in the summer, we HAVE to do it now, in a window that notoriously difficult to really strengthen in. Dundee Utd will look to strengthen with an out and out striker at the very least, and they will feel confident that if they get the right guy, they will continue their good form. We on the other hand probably need 3 players ON TOP of Kris Commons. We still desperately need pace and natural attacking width, and its good to hear that Lennon has had a few wingers in on trial over the last few weeks. At the minute we seem to be trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes. Gray and Stevenson are good full backs, but attacking wing backs they are not. Bartley is a cracking combative midfielder, but playing him in a midfield where he is now expected to take more than 3 touches and bring the ball over the halfway line, then as Saturday showed, it just doesn’t work. Shinnie being played as a central midfielder also doesn’t work, he’s clearly better behind the strikers.

Don’t get me wrong, the return of Fyvie and McGinn will be just as important as any new signings, and ANY team is going to be impacted by the loss of their main 2 central midfielders, BUT, in this league we should still have enough quality to dispatch of most teams without them. Scott Martin must wonder what he needs to do to get a game.

Now is the time where Lennon really has to start earning his wages. When we caught Rangers this time last year, they reacted by upping their game on the 27th December against us, and from then on they opened up a real gap. Well we have the chance to do the same thing two weeks on Friday. First we must deal with Raith at home and Falkirk away which will both be very tough games, but then the home game against Utd is a real opportunity for us to say, “this is the real Hibs, and you are gonna have to perform miracles to catch us”. Its time for the players and coaches to step up. They are going to be backed well at Raith and Falkirk so they need to react positively. Hopefully after the next 3 games, we won’t have 3 more excuses as to why things didn’t go as we’d hoped.

On to brighter subjects, I thought what Marathon Bet done for the fans on Saturday was terrific. Putting on buses, a free drink, a venue and a band is great interaction with the club. This follows on from the Santa hats and the video content like the recent celebrations piece and the continuation of Outside the Box. It is definitely the most I have ever seen a sponsor do for/with the club, and hope it continues.

Also, with Christmas looming, it really did make me feel proud to see the club putting on the “gamechanger Christmas” where they are putting on Christmas lunch and entertainment for up to 230 elderly, homeless and underprivileged people. I believe the spaces haven’t all been filled so hopefully we manage to do so as it’s a great initiative from the club and continues to see them improve as a “community club”

Finally, I hope we all get what we want over the festive period……. 9 points please Santa!!!

At Last

img_0330

Any Hibs fan that fooled themselves into thinking we were going to “skoosh” this league have been severely brought back down to earth in the last few weeks. It’s been 6 weeks since I last wrote here, and at that point we were 4 wins from 4. The last 4 games have obviously been disappointing, for a number of reasons. Firstly we have seen the early season performances against Brondby and Morton tail off somewhat, and now Jason Cummings has hit a bit of a barren spell, we seem to be finding it desperately difficult to score goals. Secondly, we have allowed the likes of Falkirk and Dundee Utd to get right back in amongst the top – we have been ahead against Ayr, Dundee Utd (and even St Mirren in the challenge cup) and failed to win any of them, and if we’re struggling for goals, we really need to be better at seeing the game out.

The best we’ve actually played recently barring the Ayr game was when we’ve been reduced to 10 men. Against both QoS & Raith, we were by far the better team once down to 10, but couldn’t get the breakthrough. That surely has to give Lennon something to think about. I personally don’t think we should be playing Bartley and Fyvie in the same team. Bartley is excellent at breaking the play up but offers very little going forward, and I think having him in there stifles Fyvie’s game. It’s certainly a tricky one though because we seem to be playing some nice stuff at times, and in general, dominating games, but it’s really all about goals. Some weeks we are taking 20 shots and scoring none or 1 goal, other weeks like Raith on Saturday, we are struggling to create many clear cut chances. We’ve tried to say that we haven’t been giving the strikers much service, but against Raith on Saturday that was at least 4 or 5 superb balls into the box that either landed around the penalty spot or flashed across the goals, and we failed to get on the end of any of them. You keep hoping that eventually it’s going to click, but we’ve been saying that for over 2 years now (in the league) and still it seems to be the same problems. Lennon tried playing with wingers for a whole 20 minutes against St Mirren and it didn’t work, but is that really enough time to know if a formation is going to work? To me it’s more so Lennon can say “oh well we gave it a go” and go back to the same formation.

Our summer transfer business at the moment doesn’t look great. There isn’t a lot of depth to the squad. Marciano hasn’t been overly spectacular so far, Shinnie has been extremely disappointing after a promising debut, Holt has brought the experience expected but there has been no increase in goals from midfield that we were expecting with the hope that he was going to link the midfield and strikers more, and he certainly hasn’t been prolific himself and Brian Graham hasn’t really been given much time as of yet. We are still lacking any dynamite pace in the team which could hurt teams in this division. I think Lennon wanted to give the squad that was there a good crack of the whip, which would show why he’s given Alex Harris some game time, but I do think we’re in need of a couple of new faces in January to give us a real edge in the second half of the season. We seem to be lacking that one player with a real creative spark (McGeouch at times gives us this but he’s not been fully fit all season). You only have to look at Andreu at Dundee Utd and Stephen Dobbie at Queen of the South to see the spark having someone with a bit of extra quality can bring.

One of the big talking points in recent weeks has obviously been sending off’s. 3 red cards in 5 weeks on the face of it makes it look like we have a discipline issue, but in reality I think it’s fair to say that we are actually pretty disciplined. If we look at the 3 games we’ve had red cards in, we’ve committed an average of 9.3 fouls per game, and have been on the end of an average of 15.3 fouls per game. We’ve also received only 2 yellows in those 3 games (barring Lewis’s 2 yellows for the red card) yet the opposition have received 11 yellows. And then obviously we’ve had 3 reds against us with none the other way. Now in general we can’t have too many complaints with the Stevenson red – 2 silly yellows even if one was a bit soft. But as for Bartleys 2 reds……… As I type this, we are waiting on the decision regarding the appeal against the sending off against Raith Rovers. Now whether it’s upheld or not, I don’t believe for one second that it was worthy of a red card – if it is, then most games will be finishing 5 a side. I have watched 4 or 5 matches on TV since Saturday and every game has had worse incidents that haven’t even been worthy of yellows according to the referees in those games. In the Raith game itself, we watched Declan McManus commit around 5 fouls before getting booked, and also we saw the Raith right back get booked for a cynical challenge to stop the hibs player getting away from him, only to commit EXACTLY the same challenge later in the game and escape punishment. Absolutely no consistency at all. I really do hope that if today’s appeal results in our favour, we put pressure on the SFA or referees for forthcoming matches. Whether we should be winning these games anyway is another topic, but having fewer players on the park is always going to put you at a disadvantage.

But on we go to Dunfermline on Saturday. I always enjoy going to East End Park, it’s like a home game for me, we always take a good crowd, and we tend to do ok there, so hopefully more of the same. The second half against Raith was more promising, and Dunfermline do tend to leak goals, so hopefully we can find our shooting boots and consolidate our position at the top of the league.

Away from the park, it was good to see some positive results from the End of year accounts this week. It was always hoped that there would be an improvement in a year where we sold Scott Allan, reached a League Cup Final and won the Scottish Cup as well as having money coming in from the share issue, so it was great to see a £200k profit posted which was a £1m swing from the previous year. It certainly highlights the importance of good Cup runs. Hopefully this year will continue to see solid results. With the majority of our Cup winners merchandise being sold after the end of June, money from the Europa league coming in, increased season ticket sales as well as increased walk ups, money from Cup winners parties and the boost there will have been in Hospitality, this should help us at least break even, and then of course there is the defence of our Scottish Cup. We’ve been spoilt with trips to Hampden in recent years (7 in 4 seasons) but hopefully we can add another this year, although I’d happily trade a Hampden trip for promotion.

The other thing that should bring in more profit for the club is the eventual release of the Scottish Cup winning DVD. I genuinely can’t wait to watch this next Friday. Now there’s been some attempted mocking from fans of a certain Cup final opponent, but all this does is remind you how bothered they still are by that defeat. Remember, this is the club that brought out a DVD for winning the Scottish 4th tier, and also a DVD for LOSING the UEFA Cup Final. Bet that movie didn’t quite have a happy ending. As for ours, I’m delighted to hear that a lot of effort has gone into making it a strong production, and that the feature is around 2 and a half hours long. I might need more than one case of beer to get through that. And tissues, lots of tissues. There were question marks over the price, but I’m not entirely surprised at the £25 price point. Its a double DVD for a start, we’ll have had to pay Sky Sports for rights I’d imagine, and also the production of this is a lot smaller scale than a movie DVD release, and its been done independently. Taking all that into account, and remembering that the club still want to make a decent profit from it, the price isn’t that surprising. Lets be honest, if a year ago we were told we could buy a DVD of us winning the Scottish Cup in May, we’d have told them to name their price, and any movie or stand up DVD’s I buy tend to get watched a maximum of twice. There is a chance this could be the first ever DVD I actually wear out!!

And the final words this week need to go to Alan Stubbs. I have to admit to being disappointed at the news of his sacking yesterday. I know a lot of people don’t care as they feel they jumped at the first opportunity, but to most fans, he is the manager that finally brought the Holy Grail. A lot of people tend to watch the movements of Tony Mowbray, a man that essentially won nothing with us, so I think it’s more than warranted that we keep fond memories of Alan Stubbs, Hibs manager. Yes Rotherham was a strange choice, but it’s believed he wanted to get closer to home, and maybe he genuinely thought his reputation as Hibs manager could only go downhill after the Cup win. His rushed decision to take the first job going has come back to bite him though. He took a job with a club who were overwhelming favourites to get relegated after staying up by mere miracle last season, and tried to make wholesale changes to the playing staff and style. He took quite a few players there who made their name plying their trade in Scotland, and we are all well aware that the transition between Scotland and England tends to be quite hit and miss for footballers – especially those with the poor attitude of Scott Allan. Unfortunately for Stubbs, he will now need to rebuild his reputation again, most likely at an English league 1 or 2 club. But wherever he goes in his career, he will always be remembered as the manager that won the Scottish Cup for Hibs in 2016, and that is why his name will still be fondly mentioned by Hibs fans 100 years from now

It’s a long way to the top

image
So the 1st September means that we’re now in Autumn (not that you can tell the difference from Summer in Scotland) but more importantly to Football fans, it means the Transfer windo has SLAMMED shut, and our squads are set for the next 4 months, barring the odd out of contract player.

Its been a really interesting window for Hibs. We’ve seen Conrad Logan, Mark Oxley, Liam Henderson, Anthony Stokes, Niklas Gunnarson, Farid El Alagui and Dan Carmichael leave the club permanently as well as Sam Stanton, Jamie Insall, Aaron Dunsmore and Lewis Allen go out on loan. In the other direction we’ve seen Ross Laidlaw, Andy Shinnie, Grant Holt, Brian Graham & Ofir Marciano come in. We’ve also seen Jordan Forster, Paul Hanlon and Jason Cummings sign contract extensions.
I will admit I did expect to see us bring in a couple more, but we’re probably only really short for cover at right back, although if needed, Forster or McGregor can play there.
I think when Lennon came in we immediately expected us to start playing with out and out wingers, so expected to see a couple of them come in. As it turns out, this hasn’t happened and we are still relying on our full backs for attacking width. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done correctly, so the fact we haven’t seen any new faces on the wings isn’t too much of a problem. If Lennon does need to change things in a match, he does have Boyle and Harris who can provide some width, although personally I haven’t seen anything recently from Harris to say he will be able to affect a game as he would expected to be.
The one thing we were screaming out for was more of a target man to help Cummings and Keatings, and we’ve addressed that in Holt and Graham. In midfield we lost Henderson, and while there’s been a clamour for him to return, as he is clearly a talented youngster, its worth remembering that although he was passionate, he wasn’t necessarily consistent, and I feel that for now, Andy Shinnie is the more complete player and will give us a better return this coming season than the legend that is Hendo.
Another problem area was in goals, although if we play like we did on Saturday, we could put Mickey Weir in goals for the rest of the season and not have to worry about conceding too many. In Marciano tho, on the surface it appears that we’ve brought in a very good goalkeeper. He is highly rated and some of the saves he’s made on internet clips are ridiculous. I predict a season of some absolute wonder saves mixed with a few clangers too. He has the makings of a bit of a cult hero. Any player you can sing the rocky theme to has that potential I suppose.
I know we’ve been linked to a few right backs in the last few days, Tom Hateley being one, so I reckon we’ll maybe still see this position covered in the next couple of weeks, but overall I think we’ve got a really strong first 11 with some great options on the bench. If our strongest 11 is Marciano, Stevenson, Hanlon, McGregor, Gray, Fyvie, McGeouch, Mcginn, Shinnie, Cummings, Holt, then that leaves players like Crane, Fontaine, Forster, Bartley, Martin, Harris, Boyle, Graham & Keatings waiting in the wings. Every one of those subs would be starters for any other team in our league so we should certainly have enough in the tank to be consistent til January. The biggest business for us has to be keeping that Scottish spine of Hanlon, McGinn & Cummings. The club obviously made it clear these boys weren’t going anywhere so well done for that.

Last time I wrote, we were 2 from 2 in the league. Going into the international break we are now 4 wins from 4. That is great. It is exactly the start we needed. We maybe had slight concerns about performances like against Dunfermline, but the Morton performance is hopefully a sign of the team starting to really click with what Lennon is looking for. 4 headed goals which all came from some nice play, and the final goal with a superb cross from Cummings shows exactly what we are trying to do, catch teams cold before they are able to regroup, and thats exactly why we needed strikers like Holt and Graham. After Dumbarton and Ayr, we have a VERY interesting run of games against QOTS, Dundee Utd and Raith which will complete the first set of fixtures and give us a real idea of where we are sitting. By the time we play Utd, I expect them to be more settled, and the likes of Tony Andreu will be up and running for them, so that could be a huge game to see if they are going to be challenging us. With us already 7 points ahead of them, winning that game could potentially put us out of site of them after just 8 games!

With the run we are on, and following on from that great day in May, it is no surprise to see our crowds swelling at the minute. We’ve averaged over 15,000 at our first 2 home games, and have over 10,900 season ticket holders now. A fantastic effort from the fans. And it has rolled over to away games too. Just yesterday we sold out our allocation for Dumbarton on the first day of sales. In the last two seasons, we had only sold out at that ground once, on the opening day of last season, and that only sold out in the couple of days before the game. Theres been huge debate about ticket costs, and while £22 is a tad too steep for a Championship game, it just goes to show that if the results and performances are there, the fans will be out in force. People always seem to find the cash when they think they’re going to see a winning team.

One game I’m not expecting a huge away crowd for is this weekends challenge cup game up at Turiff. The expectation is that we will send a mainly fringe side with maybe a decent spine, which should be more than capable of dealing with the highlanders, but with this sideshow of a game being selected by BBC Alba for live coverage, there will be no mad dash to be at the game on a Sunday, barring the absolute hardcore. Fair play to them. I will give this one a miss, as I expect to be nursing a hangover!

One hangover I had no problem with was the morning after the recent “Party with the Scottish Cup”. I thoroughly enjoyed the night. We spent the night watching the cup final goals over and over (and over) again, while listening to some classic Hibs tunes and having a good old bounce to Freed from Desire. The rendition of Sunshine On Leith at the end was a bit special too. Not to mention another photo opportunity with that beautiful beautiful trophy. I know there is another one of these parties tomorrow night. If the club put any more on, I was recommend it to anyone that enjoys bathing in all things Hibs!!

I’m going to go into a topic I’ve largely avoided while doing this blog. And that is the aftermath of the Scottish Cup. As we all will know, the compliance officer released the charges against both clubs this week. I think most people were a bit surprised to see what they were after what had been included in the recent report of the Pitch invasion. Most would not have been surprised to see the mention of Assualt in there, as we have seen evidence of 1 Rangers player stupidly being shoved. We also expected tho, to see mention of Sectarian singing and the use of Pyrotechnics. As it turns out, none of these were brought forward as charges. It came as no surprise that the Rangers PR machine again spouted a volcano of disgust in yet another “strongly worded statement”, which included the sentence “for the moment the board fully endorses the incredulity and ANGER of all Rangers supporters”. I find this line astonishing and for that alone the SFA SHOULD be looking to charge them with bringing the game into disrepute. I do not agree with any physical assaults, but to this day, we have 1 example of this, rather than the “several” being claimed by both Rangers and the Daily Record. The Record decided that the announcement of these charges was front page news, and again decided to focus on the assault of several Rangers players not being included in the charges. On top of them peddling that myth, they also chose to have no mention whatsoever of the Sectarian singing and Pyrotechnics not being in the charges, even although they had been in the official report. How this paper continually gets away with peddling such a one sided argument is beyond me. Keith Jacksons line of “Every Rangers player was attacked” led the way in this mythology, and he still has not been put to task for it. One argument that is being clung to by a group of Rangers fans is that the brave Rangers fans that entered the pitch were doing so to PROTECT their players. This is absolutely 100% incorrect. It was a story created by Rangers PR to make excuses for their fans. Every Rangers player had left the field of play by the time the first Rangers “fan” entered the pitch. Any Rangers fans that entered the pitch was doing so solely to fight Hibs fans. I’ll give the PR machine one thing, they have had their fans absolutely lapping it up. I am glad our board have not rushed out any statements and attempted to defend any fans that were fighting. It’s since been explained that the SFA do not have the ability to put charges in place for the fighting, as there is no strict liability rules – something that was decided by the clubs!. So with that in mind, it seems crazy that Rangers continue to throw out these wild statements. The police have continued to investigate the incident and as of this week, there was 64 arrests made (mostly Rangers fans for the record!) so if the Police are dealing with that side of things, and Hibs have shown evidence that they have done everything they can to avoid a repeat, then its difficult to see how the SFA could have punished them for it. The Daily Record won’t let that get in the way of their witch hunt tho! I’m sure with over a month til the hearings, this will continue to cause many debates, but I promise this will be the first and last time I mention it. It was just something I needed to say. I have no sympathy for anyone that went fighting or goading the opposition that day, but the arms and legs that have grown from this story has been deeply worrying and very damaging to our club!

So I’ll end on a positive. This Saturday sees the Testimonial dinner for Mr Hibs, the legend that is Lewis Stevenson. Lewis has been with us for 10 years now and thoroughly deserves this honour. To anyone that has a ticket, you lucky lucky people. I already had plans when this was announced, so I’m gutted. I know not everyone is his biggest fan, but the guy has never given less than 100% for Hibs, and is the only player in our history to win the League cup and Scottish Cup. Have a great night Lewis.

The Winner takes it all

imageSo, we’re off and running. And already the Hibee rollercoaster has begun. We went into our first league game 10 days ago hoping that we put down a marker against a team that was likely to be not far off us throughout the season. Hoping that we could do something in our opening couple of games that we’d failed to do in previous seasons in the Championship, and that was to take maximum points. It’s been well documented that our slow starts to the previous 2 seasons meant we were playing catch up for the rest of the campaign, and although we had periods of great results, any slip up just widened the gap. The hope this season was that we are the team opening up the gap at the top, rather than playing catch up. And thankfully, by hook or by crook, there we are, 6 points out of 6. Now, some folk seem desperate to pick holes in it. Don’t get me wrong, our opening performances in the league have been far from perfect, particularly against Dunfermline on Saturday, but right now it is all about winning. I along with many Hibs fans were fed up playing well over the last couple of years, but failing to finish the numerous chances we created. Saturday looked like it was going to be a similar story with great goalkeeping saves, the woodwork and glaring misses the story of the afternoon yet again, but thankfully a calamity from the Dunfermline centre halves allowed us to get out with a 2-1 win. We certainly need to start making more of our chances created, but we have been saying that for a while. The refreshing thing is hearing Lennon addressing this in a radio interview last night. He also said he needs to address how we perform well as the underdog but not so well as the favourite. Good to hear. I also hope he addresses the fact that we are still too slow in the build up. In this league we really shouldn’t be playing with 3 centre halves and a defensive midfielder. Hopefully this is just a case of getting by while waiting on the likes of McGeouch and Fyvie coming back from injury, and adding the 3 players he wants before the window closes. I would like to see us bring a winger in and start him along with Martin Boyle. It’s his kind of pace that allows us to get behind deep defences, as shown with the winner on Saturday.

But while there’s clearly work still to be done, we are on maximum points, and already 5 ahead of Dundee Utd, Falkirk and St Mirren. We will get better, I am sure of it, so that has got to be a worry for the other teams.

Sandwiched in between those league games was our 2nd round League cup game against Queen Of the South. It is a strange position to be in where although you want to win, you won’t mind TOO much if we go out. It was dissapointing that a game we dominated for an hour was chucked away so easily. It would have been nice to already be in the league cup Quarter finals after just 1 tie, but ultimately, it is ALL about the league. Hopefully Lennon learned a few things from the performance, and it means between now and January, our SOLE focus is the league (as I would expect a complete 2nd string in the challenge cup).

As the season goes on, we’ll definitely need to be able to rely on our fringe players to step up and contribute, and our bench has been a bit of a worry so far. With playing Keatings in this number 10 role, its meant we don’t really have an out and out striker on the bench, and for Falkirk and Queens, there wasn’t really a creative influence that we could bring on either. Lennon has recognised that our transfer business has been fairly slow. If we’d dropped points in the first couple of games I think this would have been a real issue amongst fans, but the wins have meant he’s had a bit more time to get the players in. There’s talk that he wants 3 in before the end of the window. I think thats an absolute minimum required. Andy Shinnie seems to be close to being done, and thats a signing I’m really impressed with. I don’t think theres many sides in the Scottish Premiership that Shinnie wouldn’t be a first pick for, and I think he’ll fit nicely into the number 10 position that Keatings has been shoehorned into recently. It does look tho as if this signing puts an end to the Liam Henderson chat. And if thats the deal dead, then fine, lets move on. I like Liam a lot. He’s a cracking player with huge potential, and the passion he showed while at us was simply outstanding. But he was inconsistent and only really kicked on in the 2nd half of the season, plus his 2 deliveries in the Scottish Cup final have definitely increased his standing amongst Hibs fans, so it’s important that we don’t dwell on him not coming in and give Shinnie (if it is him) our full support.

As I’ve said above, we could do with a winger so that we’re not relying on our full backs for attacking width. I am a huge fan of both Gray and Stevenson, but the quality of our final ball needs to improve. We also need a foil for Grant Holt. I’ve not been completely sold by him yet. He really impressed me in the European games, but so far in the domestic games, he hasn’t really been up to pace. I’m not sure if he’s maybe been surprised by the pace & physicality of the game up here. His ability is clear as some of his passing has been excellent, but his main job is to win flick ons and hold the ball up, and he hasn’t really shown much of that so far. It’s early days tho, and he’s very experienced so I still expect him to come good. I don’t expect him to play every minute of every game tho, so a striker in a similar mould is handy so that we are not in the same position as when Farid was out injured. Brian Graham has been mentioned and I think he’d be a good addition. He certainly made a difference for Ross County in the League Cup final in March. But I’m sure there is plenty other strikers around that would fit this mould. And that would be the 3 areas I’d like to see us strengthen. I’m hoping to see more of Callum Crane this season. Hopefully he gives Lewis some competition for the left back position as he seems as tho he could be more of an attacking threat.

The 3 signings is obviously based on no key players leaving, and the one we will all be thinking about as we get closer to the end of the transfer window is Jason Cummings. Since we rejected Peterboroughs offer, he’s went on to score 3 in 2 league games and has worked hard in games. Lennon mentioned in his interview last night that he wouldn’t be surprised if another offer came in before the end of the window, so it will certainly be interesting. A striker that is almost guaranteed to score over 20 goals in a season is hard to come by at any level. When we lost Griffiths, we actually spent money to bring in James Collins. On paper he looked a good signing. Socred goals in league 1 in England. Was hard working and mobile, yet it certainly didn’t work out like that. If we got an offer of over £2m then it would be extremely difficult to turn down I would imagine, but we are then left with a gaping hole up front, where even if Lennon was allowed to spend money to replace him, no one knows if they will come in, hit the ground running and bang the goals in. Also, if he stays this season and scores 25 goals, with 3 years still to run on his contract, I’m sure the offers will still be in the same ballpark, maybe even higher due to his consistency. I think we need to stay strong on this one and keep him for 1 more year. Hopefully the cup finals runs will have given us a wee boost financially meaning we can hang on to him for now.

For all his goals, its amazing how Jason still splits the support. The amount of people that seem desperate to sell him for the first offer astounds me. Jason has his faults. He’s a young lad still learning his game, but I would much rather he was doing it at Hibs rather than somewhere else, and the improvements to his game in the last 2 years has been fantastic. He’s not alone in splitting the fans tho. Look at Lewis Stevenson. With Oxley departing, he will be back to number 1 scapegoat in a lot of peoples eyes. I feel for him. I think as a full back he is great. He is tenacious, has a good first touch and is faster than he looks. It’s the attacking side of his game that lets him down (even although he was possibly the top of our assists chart last season), which is why I’d love to see a winger in front of him so he can focus on being a full back. Fraser Fyvie is another. His good performances well outweigh his poor ones but folk are much quicker to jump on any errors by him than some other players. If only we still had the likes of Ryan McGivern, Joe Keenan and Rowan Vine at the club eh. I’m all for constructive criticism, but some are just desperate to have someone to moan about.

I’m delighted to say I’m still riding on the crest of a wave from the Cup win, and thankfully so are the club (lets not talk about merchandising tho), and I am thoroughly looking forward to attending the “Party with the Scottish Cup” this Saturday. I’m sure it will be bouncing as we all relive the highlights, and will be great to see everyone getting more pictures with the Trophy. I attended hospitality on Saturday and it was great to see the Cup brought out for the fans to see. I have to say I really enjoyed the hospitality experience on Saturday. I noticed a clear improvement from when the hospitality was ran by an external company. Service and food was great, Barrie Wilkins done a great job as compere, and the fact in was an inclusive bar certainly helped!!!

So finally, next up we have another tough game, and I think if we can make it 9pts from 9 against St Mirren, then that certainly sets down the marker. Hopefully Marciano can make his debut, but if Laidlaw plays again, then I’m fine with that. He’s done well mostly in the 3 games so far. Its great to have the season back tho, especially when we’re winning!

The Final Countdown

imageIs it the 6th August yet? When it comes to Hibs, every season in recent memory has ended with me delighted to get rid of football for a while, but by the end of July, the (if somewhat short lived) optimism has returned, and I’m raring to go. Well, when your team ends the season with a last minute winner to lift the Scottish Cup for the first time in 114 years, then you’re kinda ready for the new season the following day (even if the players certainly weren’t).

In my last blog, we were close to signing Neil Lennon, and I talked about how I wasn’t completely sold on his appointment. Its certainly been an interesting few weeks since he got the job.
After he signed, one of the first players linked was Emile Heskey. This was a worry for me in one sense. I was pleased that Lennon straight away recognised we lacked a presence up front, but worried that he was just going through his phone book seeing who fitted the bill. With that in mind, I was actually quite happy with the Grant Holt signing. There was still a worry that he might be “past it”, but he certainly fitted the bill, and from what I could remember, he was quite mobile for a big guy. And from what I’ve seen from him so far, I continue to be pleased with the signing. He ran himself into the ground against Brondby, and should be a handful for the defences we’ll be up against this season.

Anyway, back to Lennon. He has already started to win me over. The immediate noticeable difference in the team is that they are playing with more width and being more direct. This was my biggest bugbear last season, and its what allowed teams to be so organised and compact against us. If we can stretch teams more, have Holt winning balls into the box, and make sure we have midfield runners to finish the scraps, we should see more goals scored, and more comfortable wins. The start of the season will certainly be a test. We all know about Falkirk. Even although they’ve lost some of their better players in Alston & Vaulks, they will still be difficult to beat. Then we have Dunfermline. They will be slightly unknown, but they have done well in pre season & cup games, and have added some decent players including Kallum Higginbotham. I think if we can take 6 points from those first 2 games, it will show we are ready. In the past 2 seasons, we have either not been ready or had major disruption (Scott Allan), so its been great going into this season with key players like Hanlon & Cummings singing long term deals. I would have liked to see us secure a couple more players by now, but if we’re playing the waiting game to get better quality players, so be it.

So what do we still need? Firstly, a goalkeeper. I was quite impressed with Ross Laidlaw in the Brondby game, but I would still be hoping we would bring in an experienced keeper as our first choice. I know we had young Alex Palmer from West Brom on trial, and he certainly has the height that Lennon is looking for, but its experience we are needing, and in such a crucial season, we can’t afford to have a young keeper that may lose confidence after making a mistake.
From the players we lost, we still need another striker. Possibly another target man. If Holt is out, we are back in the postion of when Farid was out, there’s no one else in the squad with that kind of presence. Considering we lost 3 strikers in Stokes, Dagnall and Farid, I would hope we’d bring in at least 1 more.
Another hole to fill is Liam Henderson (to deliver). I’m hoping we replace him with Liam Henderson. Lots of talk about him coming back, and it sounds as if a permanent deal is what Hibs are trying to push for. If we can pull that off, it is a fantastic piece of business. We know what we’ll be getting – a player that really matured over the course of last season – and he really gets Hibs. Plus he’s already a club legend.
I would still like to see us add someone to play wide left, with real pace. We have Martin Boyle that can do that from right wing, so would be good to have that on the other side. I am hoping to see much more from Dan Carmichael tho this season.
After that, I don’t think we’re far off. Maybe some cover in the full back area, but Jordon Forster can cover right back and Callum Crane looks like he could give Lewis some real competition at left back. I know theres been rumours of Kris Commons (although his inclusion in the Celtic European squad has maybe ended that) and I would be absolutely delighted if we were able to add someone of his quality. But I think he would be a bonus. If we add quality in the positions mentioned above, I really do think we should have more than enough to win this league with a wee bit to spare.

One of our rewards for that magnificent day on the 21st May was a place in the Europa League qualifiers. Now, just our luck we get a team with real European pedigree. On viewing them, their reputation possibly outweighs the quality of their current team, but its certainly a few steps up from, say, a part time team from Malta. Unfortunately I was on holiday during the first leg. I paid to watch it on Hibs TV but sadly they decided not to show it for some reason. So I relied on the Bet 365 app for my updates. I genuinely thought there was a fault with the app when I saw 0-1 after 20 seconds. I had to go and check a couple of other apps to verify. And as it turns out, that daft goal, and a couple of very poor refereeing decisions cost us a very good win over the 2 legs. Everything about the 2nd leg reminded me why I am proud to be a Hibee. The players gave absolutely everything, and the fans that travelled in such good numbers, were magnificent, before, during and after the match. Some of the videos doing the rounds were brilliant to watch and made me very very jealous. But they done us proud and at a time where our fan begaviour may be scrutinised ever so closely, they were an absolute credit to us.

So it’s dissapointing to be out of Europe so early, but we have to take the positives from it. We got some real competitive match time under our belts (I don’t think these league cup group stages can really be classed as competitive) & we went away in Europe and won. There’s also the couple of hundred thousand euros we get for being in the competition, which may well be what helps us bring in a certain 2 players from Celtic.

Another good thing to come from the European games was the attendance at Easter Road for the first leg. There was talk before that there was only going to be around 8k, and that it was all down to charging £22 for an adult, so when i saw there was 13,454 at the game I was very pleasantly surprised. When you consider that this was just 900 less than what our city neighbours got in their game against the giants of Malta, when it was only £12 an adult and they have had larger crowds than us in recent times, then I thought this was a great effort by the Hibees. It certainly highlights that the feelgood factor is still around the club. We’ve smashed the 10k target set by the club for season tickets, and with a couple of exciting signings, we could see that push through 11k before the season starts. Considering this is for a 3rd season in the championship with no Category A games, I think this is a great achievement from the fans.

As I said at the start of this blog, it has certainly been an enjoyable summer to be a Hibee. I found easy presents for Fathers day and my dads birthday, I have now commandeered my hallway and created a Cup Final gallery, I have shared and retweeted cup winning photos hundreds of times, I have rewatched the highlights of the final dozens of times, been to the stadium to share a fantastic moment with my son and Dad where we finally got our hands on that famous old trophy, I’ve flaunted my 2 cup winners T-shirts round Fuengirola whenever they were clean, I’ve booked my tickets for the “Party with the Scottish Cup” at Easter Road in August, I’ve relived the whole cup final day with friends I hadnt seen since before the final, while at a wedding, I’d hugged a complete stranger while walking around Rosyth Gala day, because we both were adorning Hibs gear, I’ve watched every possible youtube clip of “stokesys on fire” (normally on full volume while the missus is watching Eastenders) yet I’m somehow still married. When I told her about the cup winners party, she asked me if that would be the end of the cup final chat. It’s safe to say she was dissapointed with the reply. And you know what, why shouldn’t we absolutely revel in it. Every other fan and media outlet took great pleasure in reminding us at every opportunity how long we’d gone without winning it. THEY actually made it the big deal it became. 4 years on, Hearts still go on about 5-1, 50 years on, England still talk about 1966, but we’re not allowed to talk about the greatest win in our lifetimes, just 2 months after it happened? Aye right. I will quite rightly still talk about this on a daily basis. When football gives you the experience we had that day, why wouldn’t you?

As the season rolls in, chat has started to go back to ticket allocations, and I see Loyalty points have now been scrapped. I think its a shame. On paper, it was a great idea, and SHOULD have been a great tool in distributing tickets to the more loyal fans. But a few small mistakes (allocation of points for HSL membership for one) started to mess around with the system. The new idea of a away season ticket is fantastic for the few hundred hardcore fans that are at every single game. It doesnt quite suit me as I only make maybe half of the away games, so i will be fighting it out with the rest when Falkirk tickets go on sale EVENTUALLY, but I dont mind that at all. Theres not much more that can be done if we’re scrapping the loyalty system completely.

On Sunday, I finally managed to get my first fix of Hibs since the Cup final, when I took in the friendly against Birmingham. Their fans certainly tried to take away the “friendly” aspect, but I actually really enjoyed the game. As expected, we fielded a much changed team from the Brondby away game, but it was great to see the likes of Crane, Dunsmore, Martin, Stanton, Harris and Insall. I thought Crane and Martin in particular were excellent against a team full of big strong athletic players. I actually wasn’t that impressed with Birmingham, and thought that our players looked much better from a technical point of view. Thats great to see in a time where we are told that the Scottish championship is on a par with English League 2 or worse. I still don’t know how much of an impact Harris and Stanton will have on our first team over the coming season. They both done ok, but nothing to say to Neil Lennon “you need to get me in that team”. Keatings on the other hand continues to show how important he can be to this team. He is so busy, and his finishing can be top notch. It will be interesting to see what sort of team gets played against Shrewsbury at the weekend as you would imagine that the starting team will be quite close to what will start against Falkirk in 11 days. The team that played against Birmingham tho, I would be quite happy to see that kind of lineup in the Challenge cup this season. It gives the fringe players the chance to show Lennon what they can do, and it allows our first picks the rest so we can stay as fresh as possible for the league. Unlike others tho, I would expect full strength sides in the other 2 cups. The league cup is a maximum of 4 games this season, and is over by October, and the Scottish cup should never be taken lightly. After all, “back to back Scottish cup winners” has a nice ring to it!!

So overall, plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks with both transfers and the league kicking off. Lets hope by the end of August we’re all still full of optimism!!