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!!

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