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Hibernian Hopes

mwichmann's FM11 career
Started on 5 March 2012 by mwichmann
Latest Reply on 2 May 2012 by mwichmann
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12 yearsEdited
[[ this is a story that I was in the process of posting elsewhere, it was three seasons along when I lost the ability to continue it; since the original chapters aren't reachable I'm starting it over from the beginning here ]]

July/August 2010



After an apprenticeship that spanned different roles in several clubs, I've accepted the offer to come manage underachieving Scottish Premier League side Hibernian in Edinburgh. Managing top-flight football in Edinburgh is always a bit of a challenge, it's a Rugby town, and the jewel stadium in the area is without question the national rugby stadium, Murrayfield, which seats over 67,000. Hibernian's Easter Road stadium in contrast seats only 17,400 (<aside>real life it's 20,400, not sure the discrepancy</aside>) - although in a different age, before top-flight stadia in Britain were required to be all-seaters for safety reasons, as many as 65,860 have attended an Edinburgh Derby at the ground. Those days are long past.... The club are considered to have excellent talent and depth, but haven't won anything for a long time. Of course any discussion in Scotland starts with how do you get deal with the imbalance in financing, talent and all the rest: it's always the Old Firm, the Glasgow clubs Celtic and Rangers; and then everyone else fighting for the scraps. For 2009/10, Hibs finished 4th with a record of 15-9-14, 54 points, just barely ahead of Motherwell. 58 goals for, 55 against; and the home record was only 9-4-6. They certainly didn't have the kind of fortress-like home performance that the top two did (Rangers 15-4-0, Celtic 14-4-1). Off last season's performance, the gap to a Champions League spot is 27 points (Rangers finished with 84, Celtic 81), but of course there have been squad changes since then. This looks like it will have to be a multi-year project.

While the club are considered stable financially, it's almost a smoke and mirrors act; we've only been given a tiny transfer budget (£200k), and we're already at close to the salary budget (spending 39k of 40.8k). In contrast, Rangers have 225k and Celtic 280k to work with in salary budgets, and of course much bigger transfer kitties too, although even those are disappointingly small, Scottish football finances are not at all healthy. The club started the season with 2.3m in cash, quickly swelled with season ticket renewals by about 1.5m, but also carrying three separate bank loans totaling 6.8m. As a result, I'm not going to get full value for any player sales, for now the board will let 55% go back in the kitty. I know part of the problem is I have to earn the trust of the board, because we're not quite as poor as the numbers we've been handed.

One bit of good news, we're set to enter the Euro Cup in the 3rd round, and I consider this competition, while certainly not as prestigious as the European Champions Cup (known to most as the Champions League), the best way to build the club's reputation and bring in a bit of cash. The Scottish cups are nice domestically, but they're not as lucrative and aren't going to increase our reputation outside Scotland.

15 of 23 current first-team players are out of contract at the end of the year; without understanding the quality of these players it's too early to offer renewals to any of them, and we can't afford any raises right now anyway. We're also saddled with two loans already arranged, a good left back from Middlesbrough, Jonathan Grounds, who's nonetheless overpriced for for our budget at £3800 per week (we could cover the position for a lot less I believe) and a Scottish striker from Bristol Rovers, Darryl Duffy, who's the lowest rated player in the senior squad by staff and yet we're on the hook for his salary of £2000. I'm wondering if I can terminate this loan - I'll need a replacement, though, as there's no depth up top, unlike the back line and midfield where we have plenty of players - quality as yet unknown to me, although staff have opinions that I'll lean on. There's very little else I can do in terms of salary savings, the two big wage earners (and I use "big" in a very club-relative sense) are two players we can't do without, our only quality striker, Derek Riordan (£3000) and our creative midfield player Liam Miller (£4000). Besides the loanees, only two other players are even at 2k.

I'd like to immediately upgrade our backroom staff, but can't afford anybody's salary. I'm still evaluating the playing staff, but there's no question we need a striker, and can't afford one of sufficient quality. It's possible I can bring in a loan signing, esp. if we can get rid of Duffy, but it's not clear if we can actually improve the position with the financial limitations.

Thus, we're going to have to largely run the course of the season with what we have, try to build up some funds, pick very carefully which players have the quality going forward to stay at the club, and try to make key moves to strengthen for the long run in next summer's window, including upgrading the backroom staff. And... stay employed until then so the moves can happen!

With the Euro cup the only way to "make a difference" that I can see, we need to least make the group stages and preferably go on into the knockout rounds. We've been drawn against the winner of Azerbaijani club Xəzər and Slovenian club ND Gorica. Must admit a shocking lack of knowledge of either. The first leg was drawn 1-1 in Azerbaijan.

After four friendlies (including an intra-squad), we've only made a single transfer signing, a young goalkeeper on a free who only wanted a youth contract, so it's cost basically nothing; we've sent a not needed keeper out on loan. I've offered for a young Swedish striker a loan+option, but we can't afford the option so I almost hope he doesn't work out. The staff really like him - he was one of the choices when I asked about loan options, and he's on a low wage so it costs us very little.

The 5th friendly is more of a test, and I have to make sure it's not built up to excessive importance, since because of the schedule we don't have a first choice type XI available. FC Lorient, with Kevin Gameiro up top, is the opponent. And that's too tough; we had a decent game statistically but played poorly when it counted, and had no answer for Gameiro who scored a hat trick largely on individual brilliance (1-3 final). The report considers the result "unlucky" but we had too many who didn't quite play well enough, and finishing was poor.

There's a bit of a rebound in the next friendly, against a much easier opponent, but there's clearly a problem: our finishing is wasteful, we've hit the woodwork a lot but worse we're shooting on frame a percentage much lower than I want. My Swedish youngster looks unlikely now as we've got competition for him, and one of them is much more prestigious, Juventus - and the offer is an immediate transfer, which we can't afford.

We finish our friendly season with Aston Villa which will be a major test, then we've got our Euro Cup qualifier with Xəzər, who prevailed in the second-round qualifier. After that, a week to heal up and get ready for the league season, which opens 15 August at Motherwell.

Villa were too much for us, although we kept it even for half an hour and in the end lost only 0-1. And we lost out on our striker target. I'm rather disappointed in how things are shaping up so far. We have a surplus of midfielders, we're low on strikers, left back is a problem if our pricey loanee is out, as he is at the moment.

So it's my first for-real match in charge. Two of the three injured players are almost back, the third out for some time yet. So we've got what we've got... Costa Rica striker Winston Parks is their key player, we'll see what we can do with that.

I'll shorten the match report form later, but as we get to know the club I'll list the lineups too.

Match: Xəzər -Hibernian (Euro Cup 3rd Qual Rnd, Leg 1)
First XI: GK Mark Brown, DL Paul Hanlon, DC Francis Dickoh, DC Chris Hogg, DR Michael Hart (MoM), ML Daniel Galbraith, DM Kevin McBride, MC Liam Miller, MR Edwin de Graaf, F Colin Nish, F Derek Riordan
Subs used: Souleymane Bamba (60, for Dickoh), Valdas Trakys (60 for Riordan), Lewis Stevenson (65 for Galbraith - inj)
Commentary: We get a lucky goal early, Hart picks up a loose ball and sends it goalwards from some distance, it deflects off a player, clips off the bar and then off the back of the hapless keeper, 1-0 in the 4th. We don't capitalize on a period of dominance, and the match is level on a headed corner in the 31st - one that Dickoh actually got to, but it glanced off his head and onto the head of the scorer and in. A little propping up at half time, but The game is not very compelling until we score on an own goal by Mardanov from a corner - so we've got two but haven't put it in the net ourselves! 58th. Xəzər have a golden chance on a through ball, the shot is off the underside of the bar but not in... although the chance was golden partly due to offside, wouldn't have counted (62). Just after moving out two players who don't seem to have come to play, ML Galbraith takes an injury and we'll go the final 25mins without further sub possibilities. Sub Trakys puts it away with a diving header in the 82nd - it's a goal on his Hibs debut.
Score: 1-3 (Aliyev 31 - Huseynov o.g. 4, Mardanov o.g. 58, Trakys 82)
Final Thoughts: Kind of a rough beginning, morale isn't that great yet, some players are having trouble fitting in still, and our passing style yielded a lot of possession but not many chances. Winning off two opponent own-goals is "interesting" but you do have to get the ball in play around the net for those to happen, so we'll take some credit!

Match: Hibernian - Xəzər (Euro Cup 3rd Qual Rnd, Leg 2)
First XI: Brown, Hanlon, Bamba, Hogg, Hard, Stevenson, McBride (MoM), Miller, MR David Wotherspoon, Nish, Riordan
Subs used: Trakys (57 for Stevenson), Ian Murray (66 for Hart), Steven Thicot (75 for Miller)
Commentary: The second match comes only five days later (it's a Thu-Tue schedule, the Tuesday date for TV purposes). We've got what should be a comfy lead for the home fans. The start is okay but we can't get through, and the shots are from distance and no real danger. Finally Hart sends a cross over and Stevenson heads in from the back post. Important for him, I've pretty much handed the ML spot to youngster Galbraith, but he's out injured for this one. 1-0 in the 25th. Wotherspoon picks up some junk and fires it in from 14, now it's completely sealed, 2-0 in the 37th. Nice shot from Riordan on 41 will hopefully help get him going, at the start of the friendlies he was great, then seemed to lose confidence. 3-0. McBride speculatively sends one from long ranges as it goes in, and a rout is on, 4-0 just before the break. Again capitalising on a poor clearance which Miller poked back to McBride. In the second half, Bamba is too strong on a corner, while he doesn't score with the head he then wins the ball and puts it in for 5-0. There's no more scoring after that.
Score: 5-0 (Stevenson 25, Wotherspoon 37, Riordan 41, McBride 44, Bamba 53). Hibernian win 8-1 on aggregate
Final Thoughts: The only complaint is the shooting let off a bit - thrilled we had 10 of first 13 on frame, last six were more widely spaced and all missed. Still... this should help club confidence heading into the league season.

Our reward is drawing a seeded team, since we're unseeded, and that will be FC Porto, certainly not the easiest choice in the field. They were third in the Portuguese Liga, their 68 points from 30 league matches considerably more impressive than our haul in what's considered a much weaker league by UEFA. So maybe my dream of making a bit of a run in the competition was too ambitious? I'm not going to talk about that publicly.

Match: Motherwell - Hibernian
First XI: Brown, Jonathan Grounds, Hogg, Bamba, Hard, Galbraith, Thicot, McBride (MoM), Miller, Nish, Riordan
Subs used: Stevenson (65 for Galbraith), Hanlon (71 for Hart), Wotherspoon (71 for Thicot)
Commentary: League opener. Beautiful start, when we get control we're stroking the ball around and then suddenly a pass over the top launches Riordan, and he has enough to hold off the recovering defenders and score from the right, 1-0 on 9 minutes. Rather poor goalkeeping to allow a near-post goal from what ended up being a steep angle, but we'll take credit! Reasonable amount of control of the match for the next patch, although Motherwell are also passing well. We think we can take advantage height and it hadn't been happening, but then Nish heads in a corner - another that goes in a tiny space between keeper and man on post and perhaps could have been kept out. 2-0 on 22. Not much to correct at the half, encouragement. Motherwell start the second half well, but we stabilise and control most of the rest of the way. A little last-ditch defending and it's a clean sheet.
Score: 0-2 (Riordan 9, Nish 22)
League Position: 3rd (level on points with five others)
Final Thoughts: 60% possession in an away match, not bad. There were no draws the first matchday, so there are six joint leaders on points.

Match: Hibernian - Porto (Euro Cup 4th qual. rnd, leg 1)
First XI: Brown (MoM), Hanlon, Hogg, Bamba, Hart, Galbraith, Murray, Miller, Wotherspoon, Nish, Riordan
Subs used: Thicot (62 for Miller), Rankin (62 for Murray), Trakys (78 for Riordan)
Commentary: We've got a TV match again, this one makes our schedule for this tie be Tues-Thurs which is better for our schedule than last round's Thu/Tue: we've got a league fixture with Rangers in the middle. We get, maybe, a bit of a break in that Porto are missing Falcao, Helton and Guarin, but they do have Hulk, Moutinho, and their other stars. In the pre-match meeting staff let me know they think Porto have big advantages in aggression, determination, flair, speed and dribbling. Whee, thrills. Maybe to counter that is that Porto have not started their season well, losing their first two for-real matches 0-1. We open well, Galbraith finding space on the left of the box and getting found by Nish, a little sloppy on the defending there, 1-0 6th minute. Terrible job of tracking back and Hulk walks in from the left to score on 35. Score even at the break, but to be honest the signs were ominous the final 15. The fullbacks are struggling. Astonishing save by Brown as he spills a shot from the left, then dives back to snare the shot off the rebound (56), we're still in this one with a chance. I figure we have one shot to push things a little bit late, and it happens to pay off right away, from a throw Wotherspoon sneaks through to score from the near post, 2-1 on 83. And wow! Porto get a little flustered at the back as they're trying to push, concede a corner with a silly back-pass, and Bamba has knifed in to score with the header, it's 3-1 in stoppage!
Score: 3-1 (Galbraith 6, Wotherspoon 83, Bamba 90+2 - Hulk 35)
Final Thoughts: I think we were outclassed for a good bit of the match, but the boys showed some grit and scored a superb win. Clearly the tie isn't over, we'll have to battle in Portugal to hang on, but we've already given a better account of ourselves than I think most expected. The fans were very pessimistic coming in.

Match: Hibernian - Rangers
First XI: Brown, Grounds, Dickoh, Bamba (MoM), Hart, Stevenson, McBride, Miller, de Graaf, Nish, Riordan
Subs used: Duffy (45 for Nish), Galbraith (66 for Riordan), Thicot (69 for de Graaf)
Commentary: Gamble time. Really want to knock off Porto, so some players get a rest here, most importantly my impressive pair of wingers who each potted a goal against Porto. In making selections, I run up against the irritating SPL rule of needing three outfield U21's in the squad. Sigh. I know the logic here is to promote the development of Scottish youth but I don't see it, I've got the two wingers I'm happy to play, but it happens they need a rest, and all of a sudden it's difficult finding three. We'll see Gers two more times for sure, and once more if we're on the same side of the split, so it's useful to make a good statement..... of course I don't want to give away points, but still, you have to make a choice sometimes, and it's to focus on Porto in the Euro Cup. The first part of the match we can't play ball control with Rangers, and have to gradually shift to a counterattacking more direct style. This goes better, except when Brown can't snag a quick shot - it's through his hands, but luckily off the bar. Rangers have a second ball off the woodwork moments later, whew. Good sequence as the game opens up, Riordan maybe should have scored. First half ends scoreless. We have more trouble in the early part of the hour, then some signs of life from us past that mark, including a woodwork shot of our own. It all breaks down in the 74th as Weiss is allowed to make a long run down the right and pick out a player in the box, Naismith, who scores it. When Miller goes out injured very late I figure we've lost the gamble, but Bamba sneaks through on the back post and taps in a corner in stoppage time for 1-1, and despite giving up an even later corner we hang on to the draw, and a point!
Score: 1-1 (Naismith 74, Bamba 90+1)
League Position: 4th (2nd-5th are level on points)
Final Thoughts: A draw with Rangers, even at home, feels absolutely fine after we went behind. This club must have some determination after all (it's not rated a huge strength in general reports). Unfortunately, Miller's injury is serious, our best midfielder so far, a torn hamstring which should keep him out three months. We still have Zemmama out on a knee injury, we're not thin in numbers at midfield but the quality is starting to look less than it should be.

The draw for the Scottish League Cup 3rd round is up, this is where the last eight (seeded) teams, including us, enter. We've drawn Queen of the South on 21 Sept, at home.

Match: Porto - Hibernian (Euro Cup 4th qual. rnd, leg 2)
First XI: Brown (MoM), Grounds, Hogg, Bamba, Hart, Galbraith, Murray, McBride, Wotherspoon, Nish, Riordan
Subs used: Thicot (61 for Nish), Dickoh (72 for Murray), Hanlon (78 for Hart)
Commentary: Porto had a bit of an advantage, they didn't play over the week-end. The first half is our least impressive performance of the season so far, and even a mid-way tactical adjustment doesn't do much. I'm not sure how we've escaped scoreless, we're outshot 14-2 and Porto have had 65% of the ball. Porto's first breakthrough comes pretty early in the 2nd, a deflected shot from distance from Fernando, 0-1 on 49. Now we're on pins and needles, another goal puts us down on away goals. We need a goal of our own and I have no idea where it's coming from. And out of 76 minutes of nothing, we suddenly have a little passing sequence in the attacking third, and Riordan, almost invisible all day, turns, attacks, and slides it past the keeper! Wow! Only our 3rd shot, first of the second half, but there it is, 1-1 in the match and 4-2 on aggregate - and we've erased that away-goal problem. Shortly after we're back defending again as Porto win their 12th corner. 10 minutes left now... 8... 6... 4... 2... there will be two minutes of stoppage. And a couple of unpenalised dives later it's all over!
Score: 1-1 (Fernando 49 - Riordan 77) Hibernian win 4-2 on aggregate
Final Thoughts: I'm surprised and very pleased winning this tie. (Stepping out of character: remember this is the season in which Porto won the Euro Cup in real life). I can't pretend I think we were the better side over anything other than this tie, but we were just opportunistic enough, while Porto were not. In this match we were outshot an astonishing 27-4, and 47-15 over the complete tie.

We've qualified for the Euro Cup group stage then (I keep having trouble keeping track of this as UEFA change the format all the time). The win, and qualifying for the group stage, win us about £1m in prize money, which is a nice bonus for a club that had just under 3m in cash at the start of the season. We're in the 4th seed pot so it will be a challenge no matter what group we have. Indeed of the 48-team field, we have the third-lowest UEFA points, ahead of only Moldova's Sheriff and Finland's MyPa. We're in group E... 3rd pot: Denmark's OE, 2nd pot: Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, 1st pot: Villarreal. The two killer teams (based on five-year points) are Liverpool and Sevilla, and we did dodge those, but it still won't be easy.

Well, that should just about do for any chance at transfers, I've had to offer a contract renewal to Daniel Galbraith, certainly one of the players we'd want to retain longer term, he's only 20 (just) and was attracting attention from Aston Villa and Everton. Problem is, we had about 2500/week in salary space, and the renewal takes us down to 1000. With the premium placed on having youth in the squad by SPL rules I'd go for some kids, but I can't even find them - well, I've found them but they're all at Rangers/Celtic and all as expensive as senior players. I've got two other youngsters, Paul Hanlon and David Wotherspoon, who together with Galbraith are the three highest rated "potential" in the squad; they deserve new contracts too but I can't give them and unlike Galbraith they're not in the final year of their contracts yet.

Match: St. Mirren - Hibernian
First XI: Brown, Hanlon, Dickoh, Welsh, Stevenson (MoM), Rankin, Thicot, de Graaf, Duffy, Trakys
Subs used: Nish (60 for Duffy), Hart (70 for Welsh), Galbraith (70 for de Graaf)
Commentary: We have to switch out a lot of the side due to tiredness. We have some success early with an attacking approach even though its an away match, trying to put the supposedly weaker Saints under pressure. However, we don't actually profit, and are fortunate when a St Mirren header loops into the net that the taker was judged to have fouled in making space, and it's a scoreless first half. We've fallen off some; I know the previous two matches were really tough ones, Rangers and Porto, but it's now two goals in five halves, and a lot of that time seeming outplayed - you can take that back another two halves for the first Porto match if you want. It's a sign we're not that good, at least not yet. And as if to emphasize, we make a meal of a play in the back and the Saints score in the 47th. We crack on another set piece just moments later, it's 0-2. The utterly useless Duffy misses three shots... but de Graaf, whom I'm similarly ready to brand useless, gets his head to a cross and pulls one back for us, 1-2 on 62. His replacement (exhausted) at MR, Galbraith, celebrates his new contract by doing the same late, 84th minute, we've drawn level. Is there a winner for either side? Almost for Nish, but keeper Gallacher came out correctly to cut it off. We've got another go, Nish looking to run onto a ball, he's taken down by the defender. It's a good card to take, as we've shown no aptitude at scoring off central free kicks. Rankin sends it off the wall for a corner, could have been a late chance but it's taken poorly.
Score: 2-2 ((McGowan 47, Potter 50 - de Graaf 62, Galbraith 84)
League Position: 5th
Final Thoughts: Good comeback after a poor beginning. Both sides looked vulnerable to the ball pumped into the box from the side, in our case it was a pair of set-play situations, in St Mirren's it was the deep cross from the sides. A win and two draws from our opening matches leave us 5th.

I'm thrilled to see an international break, we're really exhausted and we don't have many callups, so this is a chance to get back onto a more even keel. Including the friendlies, we've played 13 times in 51 days, with five of the first seven matches that count being of the high-pressure variety, and we were down first one of our creative midfielders, then two.

Our international callups are Ian Murray for Scotland, Valdas Trakys for Lithuania, Souleymane Bamba for Ivory Coast, and Paul Hanlon and Daniel Galbraith for Scotland U21. Okay, after writing this, one more - Francis Dickoh for Ghana.

It's pointed out to me that one player, Merouane Zemmama, has a contract expiring at an odd time, 1st March - six months out. I can't offer him an extension as I've never seen him play. He's in his 5th year, one of which was a loan to Al-Sha'ab in UAE, statistically he seems to have played pretty well, but with the knee injury, I've not seen him at all. I think he's expecting a big contract, at 26 he ought to be entering his prime and the measly 1500/week we pay him, which is about all that fits in the budget during this season, is almost certainly not going to keep him here. For his own flexibility, if he stays for another year he'll be eligible for GB citizenship - he ought to do that, but that will be his decision. In fact a gentle testing suggests his agent is going to ask for 7500, which is so completely out of the park for the club's current financial structure that I'm now sure there's no chance he stays.

Match Summary:
Friendlies:
Hibernian - Hibernian Reserves 3-1
Hereford - Hibernian 0-3
Raith - Hibernian 1-4
Gillingham - Hibernian 0-1
Hibernian - FC Lorient 1-3
Stevenage - Hibernian 0-2
Hibernian - Aston Villa 0-1

Regular Season:
Xəzər 1-3 Hibernian (Euro Cup 3rd Qual Rnd, Leg 1) (Aliyev 31 - Huseynov o.g. 4, Mardanov o.g. 58, Trakys 82)
Hibernian 5-0 Xəzər (Euro Cup 3rd Qual Rnd, Leg 2) (8-1 agg) (Stevenson 25, Wotherspoon 37, Riordan 41, McBride 44, Bamba 53).
Motherwell 0-2 Hibernian 0-2 (Riordan 9, Nish 22)
Hibernian 3-1 Porto (Euro Cup 4th qual. rnd, leg 1) (Galbraith 6, Wotherspoon 83, Bamba 90+2 - Hulk 35)
Hibernian 1-1 Rangers (Naismith 74, Bamba 90+1)
Porto 1-1 Hibernian (Euro Cup 4th qual. rnd, leg 2) (2-4 agg) (Fernando 49 - Riordan 77)
St. Mirren 2-2 Hibernian (McGowan 47, Potter 50 - de Graaf 62, Galbraith 84)

End of month table summary (mostly three played)
1. Rangers 7 +5
2. Hearts 7 +4, 6gf
3. Aberdeen 7 +4, 5gf
4. Celtic 6
5. Hibernian 5
...
10. St Mirren 1 -3
11. St Johnstone 1 -6
12. Inverness CT 0 (2 played)

The transfer summary is really unfortunate and frustrating - I had a number of moves made for me before I arrived, including players I wouldn't really want. Here's the info for what's happened since I arrived:

In: GK James Dunn, 18, free, youth ctr. (spent time at Millwall, Fulham, most recently Arsenal)
Out: ML Mark Lancaster, 17, contract expired
Loan out: GK Thomas Flynn, 19, to Neath

And loan activity I didn't control:
In:
ST Darryl Duffy, 26, from Bristol Rovers (£2000)
DL Jonathan Grounds, 22, from Middlesbrough (£3800)

Out:
ST Kurtis Byrne, 20, at East Fife (contrib £200/400)
DL Callum Booth, 19, at Brechin (contrib £130/250)
DC Ewan Moyes, 20, at Brechin (contrib £0/350)
DR/MC Kevin McCann, 22, at Inverness CT (contrib full £600)

These are a disappointment; Grounds is a good DL, better than we otherwise have, but we're overpaying compared to like quality of players in the club, and we've only got him through January. Duffy, on the other hand, is rated by staff as the weakest player on the senior squad, and we're paying a salary which would equate to one of our starters - he's joint 4th highest paid. I know I'm repeating myself from the beginning of the report, but I'm that irritated. I'll probably repeat it again.

Many targets indicated no interest in us, a disappointing result. Only one actually got to a stage of negotiation then turned us down, and that's understandable, a famous Italian club offering a full ride vs. our offer of a loan. It's too early to give up on the job, and the fact that just about the whole squad will go out of contract at the end of the year does give me more flexibility than usual. But there's no doubt I find this more frustrating than I expected. Not being able to sign ANYBODY (except one youth goalkeeper) was not my expectation. And having so many players out of contract (19 total at the club) doesn't help as much as it could; if we're going to be in Europe again next year we need to be able to fill the 4/8 homegrown requirement again, which means I have to keep enough players in those categories; and there's almost nothing of value sitting in the U19 program - I've got a right midfielder and a right defender who have the potential to maybe become senior squad players, but not better (unless, of course, I'm getting poor evaluations).

Staff wise, we made two additions, after a hunt for unemployed/cheap options: we added one much better scout (I'll keep looking for more as the board allows six here, we have only two); and a coach to specialize in strength/aerobic, where we seemed to be quite poor. Coaching coverage is still very thin, so training ratings across the board are much less than I'd like; and we have three youth coaches where we probably don't need to (inherited, but board also says we should have only one). We could add two more coaches in theory - a first-team coach and a regular coach.
September 2010

Marouanne Zemmama has resumed light training, full training is about a month away. But there's also bad news, another midfielder is down, John Rankin, as well as backup keeper Graham Stack, both have hernias and will miss 5-6 weeks and 6-8 weeks, respectively.

Match: Hibernian - Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Score: 5-0 (Bamba 25, Riordan 39, 59, Dickoh 83, Thicot 87)
League Position: 1. Rangers 10; 2. Aberdeen 10; 3. Celtic 9; 4. Hibs 8
Final Thoughts: Good solid performance where we were clearly superior. A good first 25 was capped when Bamba scored, he's our leading scorer, from the backline. Good play continued through the first half, and I was pleased to see some danger created from free kicks. Riordan sealed it for us when he worked hard and pinched a ball from the back line in the 59th minute and scored. None of the five goals was a fluke, and the fifth was really superb. The only table help we got was Celtic beating Hearts, so we move up one spot.

Before the match, we've heard that a 20-year old striker out of contract, Omar Koroma (Gambian but also with British citizenship so no work permit issues), has agreed to our terms. The deal is ideal; he's taking almost no money now, after 30 league appearances - which should be next season at best, it rises to 1100. He's very raw, but could amount to something, and for our current level, that's an acceptable prospect. He's bounced around a little as a youth, trials with Watford, Southampton but at the time had work permit issues. After getting married, he was able to sign for Portsmouth but they didn't keep him after the two years.

Match: Bayer Leverkusen - Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 3-1 (Ballack 30 pen, Kiessling 35, Erden Derdiyok 89 - Welsh 82)
Group Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: We switched things up to a 4-5-1 on advice that Leverkusen do exceptionally well against exactly the format and pace we usually play at, and we have a great first 15 minutes, but even so there are signs - Macheda (on loan from Man United) showing his extra skills to get Hart booked by pinching the ball and making a move. We're still hanging in there, until the referee spots a phantom foul on Hogg - he had position and Macheda dove over him (this is away from the ball even). The commentators spotted it, but it fooled the referee who points to the spot, and astonishingly, shows red. We're definitely the weaker side and Leverkusen don't need any gifts, and this is as big a gift as you can give. The game is really over at this point, but we hung tough to keep it at 2-0 for a long time and even snatched back a late goal to make it closer until Leverkusen got the very late clincher.

A surprising Rangers home loss to Dundee leaves Aberdeen top, and drops us to 5th (of the top 6, we and Celtic now have a game in hand as we're off this week-end between Euro Cup and Scottish League Cup matches).

We've added a reputable coach as first-team coach, Colin Cooper; regrettably we had to drop one of the youth coaches as we would have gone over our overall limit of six coaches. I might make one more similar move if we can find the right person within budget - we have one more youth coach we could do without in a pinch (remember we had three on staff when I arrived, while the board thought the right number is one at this point in our development).

Match: Hibernian - Queen of the South (League Cup 3rd Rnd)
Score: 3-0 (Nish 1, 69, Trakys 34) MoM: McBride
Final Thoughts: We needed a good win here with a weaker opponent in the League Cup, having actually only won once in the last five outings, and we got a great start, Nish, who was semi-dropped for poor play, headed in a cross inside the first minute. I wasn't that happy at a clear lack of focus for a half-hour stretch after that, nor for nearly conceding a goal in the last 10 minutes - we were lucky an open header from a corner hit the side netting instead of going in. McBride, again, had a storming match, so far this season he's way exceeded expectations.

There aren't a lot of shocks in the rest of the round, but we get a break in the draw, we get the only surviving division 1 side, Partick Thistle, and it's a home tie... we've been set the minimum goal of making the semi final and if we don't lay an egg we should be able to do so. Other matchups are Inverness-Celtic, Rangers-Motherwell, Hearts-Kilmarnock. There's a better than even chance it will be the two Glasgow clubs and the two Edinburgh clubs in the semi final, with Aberdeen knocked out back in the second round when they lost on penalties to Forfar.

We've made one final move on the coaching front, instead of dumping the other youth coach, we've moved him over to a club-wide role, so he can work with the senior players as well. This turned out to be the most economical option, and he's a good attacking coach which turned out to be the biggest weakness as we evaluate the training ratings. He did demand a raise for this, which is fair. So within current board restrictions, we can do no better for now.

And now we head into the second of our clashes with the Old Firm. Away at Celtic Park... the staff have been paying attention (and of course I'm new to Scotland) and actually identify some Celtic weaknesses, which are that they don't start very well, they don't react well to teams playing a slow tempo or with a deep lying defensive line. It's worth a try to go at that, but it's never quite that simple. If the lads really play up to the standard they've shown a few times maybe we can keep Celtic from collecting all three pts? That would be a coup at their park, but I'm taking great care not to build this match up as something too special (honestly, it does that by itself, so I have to gently bring it down), it's a long season and too high means too big a crash if it doesn't go right. It's a little emotional for keeper Mark Brown, who toiled three years for Celtic before spending a year at Kilmarnock then coming to us. Well, so he's been around a bit, also was at Rangers four years, Motherwell for one, Inverness for five. Despite the spotted background, he's a clear #1 for us.

The Scottish cup gets an early start, but we won't be in for a while, these are very low-level clubs in the first round.

Match: Celtic - Hibernian
Score: 1-0 (Juarez 82)
League Position: 7th
Final Thoughts: The first half didn't really determine anything, scoreless, and we certainly weren't pushed around despite their shots advantage, as theirs were largely wasteful. It's a really tough battle throughout and I think we're going to get a result to be proud of, but then the almost inevitable happens - Celtic pick off a weak pass, Izaguirre has a great chance on goal, Brown is superb to deflect it so it doesn't go in, but Juarez pounces on the loose ball and finishes. Really hate losing in the last 10 minutes, but so it goes. Galbraith actually had a chance to score the really late equalizer, but he botched the chance. I'm not angry, but somewhat disappointed, I think we did enough to earn a draw. The result, however, drops us to 7th. I know we've had to live through facing both of the Old Firm clubs in the first five matches, and we've got one in hand but we're actually on a lower points-per-match ratio than last season and are going to have to step it up in the coming patch of 15 league matches where we happily face Rangers once, Celtic not at all.

Match: Hibernian - Villarreal (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 3-2 (Nish 27, Riordan 43, McBride 47 pen - Cazorla 14, 75)
Group Position: 2nd (on head-to-head result over Villarreal, Leverkusen are 1st)
Final Thoughts: We tried to resist Villarreal's completely expected early surge, but could not after Cazorla's exquisitely placed shot nicked the inside of the post and went in in the 14th. Head in hands time moments later, Wotherspoon was through but missed the net, however Nish continued to expose some Yellow Submarine problems on the back line to level. We cut them open a third time but the keeper cut off Murray's angle. And then again, Riordan had the first one kicked away by the keeper but after a weak tap back by a defender he somehow got it away from the keeper to put it in for a Hibs lead, which we took to the break. Villarreal look really shaky in back, justifying, I guess, my gamble to come out aggressive and attacking. The second half brought more frailty, a needless penalty conceded and we were up by two. There's almost another penalty in the 55th, this one is just outside the box - and Marchena got his marching orders on that one with a second yellow. Time seemed to flow overly slowly as we battled to hang on to the lead, which was cut in half with about 15 minutes to go. An agonising four extra minutes, but did it, another famous victory, and a tremendously entertaining match. Rather open, it features 37 shots taken, and they weren't all just wild things either, 18 on target (14-23, 7-11 were the breakdowns). Hope the fans, who packed Easter Road, enjoyed it - I can't see how they wouldn't have.

Monthly results summary:
Hibernian 5-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Bamba 25, Riordan 39, 59, Dickoh 83, Thicot 87)
Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E) (Ballack 30 pen, Kiessling 35, Erden Derdiyok 89 - Welsh 82)
Hibernian 3-0 Queen of the South (League Cup 3rd Rnd) (Nish 1, 69, Trakys 34) MoM: McBride
Celtic 1-0 Hibernian (Juarez 82)
Hibernian 3-2 Villarreal (Euro Cup Group E) (Nish 27, Riordan 43, McBride 47 pen - Cazorla 14, 75)

Disappointed to give up the late loss to Celtic but you can't say it wasn't a decent month - we snatched one win where we should have been the weaker side, we hung with Celtic in their park until the very and, and cleanly won the two we would have been expected to. However the loss to Celtic has seen us slither off the top three neighborhood I'm hoping for, although with a win in the game in hand we'd at least be up to 4th. The game in hand doesn't come up till December, when we'll play Hamilton twice in four days with the regularly scheduled fixture. Meanwhile, we're in with at least a whisper of a chance in the Euro Cup group stage, we've got back-to-back matches with OB, theoretically the weakest club besides ourselves in the group. We need some points from those (21 Oct and 4 Nov), and it would be nice if Villarreal and Leverkusen would beat up on each other in that pair. Not sure how to root there - a pair of draws would be the maximum overall point drop but maybe it's better if Villarreal get beat twice? Well, that will just play out however it plays out.

End of month table summary (6 played except as noted):
1. Celtic 15
2. Rangers 13
3. Aberdeen 13
4. Kilmarnock, Motherwell 9, +0, 7gf
6. Dundee United 9 +0 6gf
7. Hibernian 8 +6 (5 played)
8. Hearts 8 -1
9. St Johnstone 7
10. St Mirren 4 -5
11. Hamilton 4 -7 (5 played)
12. Inverness CT 1

Leaders:
Goals: Riordan 6, Bamba 4, Nish 4
Assists: McBride 6, Hard 4, Stevenson/Nish 3
Passing: Thicot 85%, Miller (inj) 85%, McBride 84%
Rating: Bamba 7.54, McBride 7.32, Brown 7.16

Finances:
The payment for the Euro Cup group stage win (€122k) leaves us with a small profit for the month, and +€3.5m for the year.
October 2010

We'll start the month with one league match, then take another International break. We were going to have four league matches but the Aberdeen meeting, potentially the toughest of the bunch, is postponed due to a League Cup tie. I'd love to come away with wins in all four (well three now), but that might be asking too much.

I've looked a little deeper at loans, and four of the ones we've got going out are expiring around the end of the calendar year. That's £920 of salary contribution that's coming back onto our payroll, which would put us right at the limit. Of course if Grounds goes, as will probably happen, we'll get £3800 of space back, so we'd actually be better off.

Match: St Johnstone - Hibernian
Score: 2-4 (Craig 41, Moon 48 - Trakys 10, 43, Gartland 68 o.g., Riordan 76)
League Position: 5th
Final Thoughts: Although I keep getting staff analyses that we score most of our goals late, we've got another early one, and to me it seems there have been a lot of those. Nice play in the 10th minute, Galbraith putting in a cross after good work, but if the keeper hadn't made a meal of it while running into his defender, Trakys wouldn't have had the tap-in. Gift. We don't really consolidate our gain and with Thicot off the pitch receiving treatment looked like we'd conceded after a corner, but luckily flagged offside. Ten minutes later we were not so lucky. The players got organized after that and Trakys scored a lovely shot so we hit the break up one. We couldn't stem the turning tide early, and failed to defend as Moon curled in to the middle and buried his shot to level up again. We went back up top on an own-goal but it was well-worked with a lot of pressure so can't call it undeserved. A long ball that should have been defensively won ends up letting sub Riordan score the clincher. Riordan had another on when fed nicely by fellow forward sub Koroma, but was tripped from behind by Duberry - surprisingly unpenalised except a free kick. Later, though, when former Reading (and Stoke, and Leeds, and Chelsea) player Duberry came in hard from behind on Murray the referee was not lenient and showed the straight red. The 4-2 final doesn't really reflect the trouble we had to go to, and we're conceding too much. The win puts us 5th, still with a game in hand. On a goals per match basis, we're the top scoring team in the league, but our six conceded are a ways to go to rival Celtic and Rangers who are on two each - very solid. I'm actually a little surprised, I thought we had a better defensive corps, but we're working on it - problem mostly seems to be concentration.

In my desperation to build up the youth part of the squad, we've brought in a young Spanish defender who was out of contract, Pedro Santos. The U19's are finally showing a little composure after a horrid start, going backwards the results have been 2-0, 3-2, 1-1 after losing four of the first five (including first-round U19 Cup match), scoreless in all four of the losses. On the senior side we're 3-1-0 in non-Old Firm matches, stumbling against St Mirren; we're 0-1-1 v. the Old Firm. Such is life in Scottish football.

Match: Hibernian - Kilmarnock
Score: 1-0 (Bamba 30)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: Kilmarnock were a little aggrieved, one of their strikers had to go off injured after a first-minute challenge. We had a goal waved off for offside - not Riordan who scored it, but Wotherspoon who fed him, and that looked pretty tight. A goal didn't come until a 30th minute corner, not overly thrilled with our play to that point. Or rather, I'd say Killie played us rather well, it was time to cross them up by changing things. Really the adjustments didn't work long term, there was a brief surge at the start of the half and that was it. It's not a game we played that well, but we've got the three points, and it was just a low-scoring day in the league. Sunday, Dundee Utd. scrapped for 2-2 draw with Celtic, so the Old Firm are level at the top with 19, along with Aberdeen, all three on 6-1-1 records; we're on 14 and Dundee 13.

Match: Odense Boldclub (OB) - Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 0-1 (Mc Bride 90+4 pen)
Group Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: This was not our best performance of the season, and it's almost lucky that we won a very late corner, and the ever dangerous Bamba was knocked down going for it. It's very rare to see a penalty awarded to the offensive side on a corner but there it was, and McBride made no mistake putting it away. I'm not sure if I should have followed the pre-match advice to play a direct game because of the field, as it seemed we let OB control too much. In the other group match, Villarreal and Leverkusen draw, so I understand at least in part our route to the knockout round: we need to get maximum points at home against OB, which will put us on nine; and then we need some help. Villarreal could get to 13, and even if we got a draw in their park (optimistic) the prospect would then be Villarreal 11, Hibernian 10. Meanwhile, Leverkusen (7 pts) are through if they win out. They visit us in the fifth group match, so there's also the prospect that we have to beat them to go through. It will be quite a challenge. For other UK clubs, Liverpool are having a bit of a struggle, a 1-1-1 start has them joint 2nd in Grp A; Celtic are 2-0-1 clear 2nd in Grp D; Man City are 1-1-1 2nd in Grp L.

Our Thursday Euro Cup match followed by Tuesday League Cup means, as I already mentioned, we'll miss another league match, and have two in hand until late November when we pick up the first missing one. For the weekend, Dundee move ahead of us with a Saturday win. Sunday sees the first Old Firm match with the two sides coming in dead even on record and almost even on goals for/against (Rangers 18/3, Celtic 17/4). Might as well go watch with an idea to some scouting... Mostly Celtic's show, but it's not a huge shock it's a 2-2 draw.

Partick Thistle, the next opponent, have been playing well, but they're a first division club, at home we better get a result, even if I'm going to try some of the less used players.

Match: Hibernian - Partick Thistle (League Cup Qtr Final)
Score: 2-0 (Duffy 50, Zemmama 78)
Final Thoughts: Barely enough to hold off a pesky Partick Thistle. Switched almost the whole lineup and I guess it was too much, but good to get a number of players a run out. Both scorers got their first of the season. Hanlon was very good on the left, a man of the match performance. Maybe he is the answer after Grounds' departure after all, although the staff consider him a better central defender. In the other League Cup matches, it's no surprise Celtic and Rangers win, but our Edinburgh rivals Hearts lose at home to Kilmarnock in what has to be an upset. In what at least gives us a chance for the final, we've drawn Kilmarnock - away. Rangers host Celtic in the other semi. These don't come up until 26 Jan.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (Riordan 55)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: Looked like we were a bit in the doldrums, not doing anything useful against Dundee in the first half, although defending well enough to keep it scoreless. Riordan looped in a very long shot to get us on the board in the 55th. It's not a very distinguished game but it's a sign that we've really improved our set piece defending, a focus area recently, because we really cleaned that out. An away win is always good. Celtic and Aberdeen do the same, and Rangers squeak at home. We'll need to pick up the scoring a bit now, but it can't be perfect all the time and we've actually won six in a row here while I was just worrying about individual matches and not noticing the streak. Hart took a knock, but he won't miss more than 10 days so we should be okay.

I've had a poke round a few of the best players on expiring contracts and it looks extremely grim. Bamba has become dominant at center back, the only problem being he gets a little out of control at times and collects cards. But he doesn't want to continue at Hibs at all. Striker Riordan, on his way to an excellent season, wants a raise from 3k to 5300, which isn't in normal circumstances unreasonable, but with our finances... Injured key player Liam Miller wants a big raise. Captain Chris Hogg wants to go from 1300 to 3400.

Our young defender Callum Booth, on loan at Brechin, is second division young player of the month - but comes away with a long-term hip injury.

Monthly results summary:
St Johnstone 2-4 Hibernian (Craig 41, Moon 48 - Trakys 10, 43, Gartland 68 o.g., Riordan 76)
Hibernian 1-0 Kilmarnock (Bamba 30)
Odense Boldclub (OB) 0-1 Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E) (Mc Bride 90+4 pen)
Hibernian 2-0 Partick Thistle (League Cup Qtr Final) (Duffy 50, Zemmama 78)
Dundee United 0-1 Hibernian (Riordan 55)

Nice month, five wins from five, and ending with four clean sheets, but not a lot of scoring after the first match. Overall, we were a very sharp passing team early - got praise from opposing coaches, even; not so much recently though.

End of month table summary (9 played except as noted):
1. Rangers 23 +16
2. Celtic 23 +15
3. Aberdeen 22 (8 pld)
4. Hibernian 17 (7 pld)
5. Dundee Utd 16
...
10. St Mirren 8 -6
11. Hamilton 8 -11 (8 pld)
12. Inverness 4

Euro Cup Group E:
1. Leverkusen 7
2. Hibernian 6
3. Villarreal 4
4. Odense 0

Team Leaders:
Goals Riordan 8, Bamba 5, Nish, McBride 4
Assists: McBride 7, Galbraith, Stevenson, Nish, Hart 4
Passing: Thicot 85%, Miller 85%, McBride 82%
Rating: Bamba 7.59, McBride 7.21, Galbraith, Hart 7.19

Finances:
We lost some money, expenses went down from £899k to £820k but income dropped from £957k to £469k. I guess it's mostly due to gate receipts, we only had Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle among home matches. I'll test the theory for November, when we've got four home dates, one a Euro Cup match and one an Edinburgh Derby.
November 2010

Challenging month; we've got a Euro Cup match, an Edinburgh Derby, Rangers away, Aberdeen away, and a total of seven matches. It's a test of whether we can stay on point as the schedule gets tough; with international breaks we only played 10 times in Sept+Oct, but in Nov+Dec we're on for 15 matches. If there's a saving grace, nine of those are at home.

Match: Hibernian - Odense Boldklub (OB) (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 3-1 (Zemmama 7, Wotherspoon 39, Absalonsen o.g. 49 - Gislason 90+1)
Group Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: We got our win in reasonable fashion, although I would have liked more rear ends in the seats, 14,354 isn't bad but where were the other 3000 that could have come? Took a bit of a flier on a hunch and played not McBride/Murray in the center but instead put in a diamond 4-4-2 with Zemmama and Thicot. Zemmama scores a nice goal set up by some excellent close quarters control in the 7th minute (Bamba and Galbraith involved). We added another goal late in the half, an own-goal in the 2nd, and then unfortunately conceded in stoppage. It wasn't that nice a match, we had three injuries and four yellow cards while OB had four yellows of their own. What could have been a really costly match is still relatively costly, we've lost our best striking threat Derek Riordan for 2-3 weeks; the other two players are OK. Leverkusen beat Villarreal so there's no real change to my analysis from last time: if Villarreal win both (one against us in their park), they'd be ahead of us unless we collect at least two points - that is, we'd have to beat Leverkusen. On the other hand, we know now that a draw with Villarreal means they can not catch us.

For the derby match, with tiredness and injury, we shouldn't have quite the lineup available that we'd like. But once again, as we look at various opponent and squad analysis, I'm struck by the weaknesses this club have - the backroom advice suggests we're at a disadvantage in aggression, determination, dribbling, height and technique and doesn't list us as being superior enough in any area to bother listing one. And yet, we're rated a bit better club than Hearts? How does that work? Also, while staff think Hearts can be taken advantage of with pace and an aerial attack, only one of our seven fastest players are in my initial back-of-the-envelope jotting of a first XI - that's defender Bamba. Of the other two in the top three, wingers Galbraith and Wotherspoon are both the best options to bother Hearts, and players who need some rest. I could push them, they could certainly go, but it's Sunday and we're set to visit Glasgow to play Rangers on Wednesday, so I'd be leaving them unavailable for that one. This is what gives managers gray hairs: put out our best here and have a weaker group for Rangers which we'd expect to have a tough time in anyway, or save some of it for that match?

Match: Hibernian - Hearts
Score: 0-0
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: In the first-half rain we were chasing the game from the beginning, then had a bit of a surge. The half ends with Hearts playing better again. Past the hour there was still no clear force in the match, each side had their chances, Hibs off the woodwork three times, Hearts twice. I thought we finally had it set up in the 83rd, but Duffy wasn't able to get the header on target. Scoreless, disappointing on three fronts: we want to beat our local rivals whenever we can, we didn't play particularly well, and we've dropped two points in a situation we couldn't really afford. It's a day of surprises as the top four were all in action Sunday; while we dropped two points at home, Aberdeen beat Celtic at Celtic Park, and Rangers lose at St Mirren. This means Aberdeen have gone two points clear at the top, and even have a game in hand; Rangers and Celtic are still in lockstep but it's 2nd/3rd place now. Where is this Aberdeen magic coming from?

Match: Rangers - Hibernian
Score: 3-1 (Lafferty 35, Jelavic 51, Weiss 81 - Bougherra 48)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: A horror first half, Brown drops a ball and then with it at his feet doesn't pounce on it and Lafferty buries it, and Murray is sent off for three incidents of poor discipline, the first he got away with but not the second and third. We've managed not to get blown out in the half. In the second we get a gift goal as a cross clunks off a sleeping Bougherra and in. Then we went to sleep on defense and Jelavic scored. Our woeful strike corps failed again, Duffy blundered a couple in the first half before being sacrificed after the sending off, then in the second half Nish had a good opportunity but he never beats the keeper 1v1 and he didn't here either (yes there were defenders coming, but it's frustrating knowing you can create such chances and they won't be finished unless Riordan is in the game, still unavailable today due to injury. We will have to improve that). And then Galbraith, our one player with pace, tries to set everything up himself and has made a gorgeous play, a teasing ball through the box, where Nish hasn't been able to make enough of a run to get there. Nish's failure when put clear through by Galbraith on the hour would be enough to lose him his job if there was anyone else knocking on the door to win the job, which there isn't, pathetic. The problems are compounded when McBride is injured. Indecisive play on a set piece lets Weiss tap in and it's over. As it was, he completely mis-hit it from three yards out but it bounced off one of our players into the spot Weiss was presumably aiming at in the first place. We finished with an absolutely gorgeous diagonal ball from Galbraith which Nish did nothing with. Poorly played on both sides, we've got nothing to take pride from. We haven't scored a goal of our own in 231 minutes of football (two opponent own-goals in that time), and we've now fallen 10 points behind. Behind Aberdeen, on whom we have one game in hand. There's still a feeling, and by now maybe it's wrong, that it's Celtic/Rangers we have to look at. Celtic lost again, the Old Firm clubs don't seem as good this year, which helps - if Aberdeen will ever lose. We'll have our first chance at them 23 Nov, 10 days from now.

A bit of a difficulty for us is the inability to use reserve team matches to keep players fit. There's no reserve league in Scotland, and when I do try to schedule a reserve friendly for fitness purposes we don't get a lot of takers. I've managed to make three of them, but now when I need to get Miller, Rankin and Stack back into shape, plus get games for Koroma to develop, I can't find an opponent. We have to pick carefully because we don't really have a reserve "team" anyway, so it has to draw from the youths.

In team meetings I stressed that I'm not angry with the club for losing, Rangers in their park is a tough ask, but I expect a more composed performance. In both the Hearts and Rangers matches the players got really fired up, and that emotion needs to be controlled a bit, we've got a long season to go and steady does it. In particular, we need to really concentrate on playing well as we've got a string now of eight league matches of which seven are against teams that would be on the wrong side of the split if it were made today - that is, the bottom six. Any taking anyone lightly could result in crucial points dropped, like what happened in the St Mirren match when we needed a late goal to salvage a point. Unfortunately, I know privately that the first one is going to be a challenge, I've had to pick an XI with only three players who I'd call regulars in the first XI at the moment, and of those Liam Miller is making his first appearance after a long injury absence and certainly isn't fully match fit yet. Motherwell are coming off a season where they qualified for Europe, but in the world that is Scottish football, if you're not the Old Firm, there's not a tremendous amount of continuity and they're running 9th this season.

Match: Hibernian - Motherwell
Score: 3-1 (Rankin 59, de Graaf 66 pen, Hogg 88 - Blackman 90+2)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: It's more of the same, poor play, poor discipline. Stevenson infuriates me by being sent off on two yellows as early as 26 minutes. We survive the half and actually take the lead around the hour, the first sign of inspired play from youngster Koroma slithering down the goal line and finding Rankin who slipped it in. A ball the keeper should have stopped, but hey, we'll take it. The referee hasn't looked very good, and he awards us a penalty on a play where sub (and very infrequent choice) Currie is trying to receive a throw at the left edge of the box. Giving a penalty on that looked very harsh on Motherwell. de Graaf rolled it in, we were up 2-0 on 66. Hogg seals it with a late header off a corner, and I'm quite happy with the response after my half-time hairdryer performance, we scored three being down a man. Less happy that we got sloppy and gave up a stoppage time goal, although time should already have been blown. Aberdeen couldn't extend their magic, losing at Rangers who go top. Dundee remain right on our heels, as do Hearts; Celtic pick up a win Sunday so the top is Rangers 29 from 13, Aberdeen 28/12, Celtic 26/13, Hibernian 21/11, Dundee 20/13, Hearts 19/13. The split between top and bottom six looks pretty clear now, 40% of the pre-split schedule complete it doesn't seem too likely the split will change. Of course, the tough part of the SPL scheme is we finish with one each against the rest of the top six, nothing easy, so we want to be well established as high up as we can get before the split.

A look at the schedule suggests we may want to fiddle a bit with the rotation that's emerged by necessity - many players have the whole week (international break for a few) to prepare for a visit to bottom feeder Inverness, then we've got Aberdeen away mid-week, St Johnstone at home, Leverkusen mid-week, then St Mirren at home. I need the best players on the pitch for Aberdeen and Leverkusen. The next mid-week match is a little easier (Hamilton at homea,) then the following Thursday we're in Spain for Villarreal.

Match: Inverness CT - Hibernian
Score: 0-2 (Nish 19. 82)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: Nish finally put one past the keeper on an isolation situation to give us the lead. It was a decent first half, some confidence after the goal; marred by youngster Currie, finally getting a bit of a run out with me wanting to save Galbraith and with Stevenson suspended, taking a knock just before half time and it's Galbraith on after all. Koroma was part-through early in the 2nd and lobbed the keeper, unluckily just clipped the woodwork. Then Nish is behind but is immediately caught and the ball taken away, that's a skill a striker is supposed to have that we seem to be lacking, controlling the ball and not getting picked clean by defenders. Tried to save the subs as de Graaf usually can't go the full 90. Another example of problems, there's no partnerships up top yet... Koroma puts a lovely little pass through where Nish is not awake and never gets close. After a period of multiple mistakes Nish connects on another surprise bomb, he fires flat footed and puts it in the other corner, and we've got our win sealed. McBride in a sub role made some odd mistakes, and spurned a chance at the 3rd goal. We didn't play all that well, but Inverness wasn't able to put up much of a fight. Elsewhere, there's a change at the top again as Rangers lost at Kilmarnock and Aberdeen edge St Johnstone to go top.

Down below Hadrian's wall, the EPL world is upside down... the league is being led by Wolves, with the Hodgson-managed Liverpool second (able to go top by a single point if they win their Wednesday game in hand). Steven Fletcher (ex-Hibs, before my time) has banged in an astonishing 12 goals, Fernando Torres also has 12 overall, but only nine in the league. Wolves top, Fletcher leading scorer? That can't last, right?

Match: Aberdeen - Hibernian
Score: 1-3 (Miller 17, 28, Hogg 86 - Paton 38)
League Position: 4th
Final Thoughts: We played very well in the snow in Aberdeen, although we spent a lot of time defending. Miller, making his way back from three months out, impresses with two first-half goals as he snuck into the clear. Paton pulled one back but we held them off the rest of the way. Aberdeen had a player sent off in the 85th and Hogg scored the clincher just after. The win really tightens up the top of the table - or at least it would if we won our game in hand. Table update due for end of month after next match.

Match: Hibernian - St Johnstone
Score: 2-0 (Trakys 34, Wotherspoon 73)
League Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: We finally cashed in a corner after seeming less productive with that, it's Trakys scoring. It was a good first half, but not a productive one. Having not taken of advantage of chances to make it comfortable in the 1st, of course St Johnstone start playing better and better in the 2nd half. Just when I'm starting to worry we won't be able to hang on, Wotherspoon scores on a bit of a counter in the 74th, and that's enough to seal the win. We're temporarily in 3rd as Rangers don't play until tomorrow - but this is based on an equal number of matches. Aberdeen and Celtic have both won.

The draw for the Scottish Cup 4th round (the round of 32) brings a stunning tie: Rangers v Celtic, so one of those will be out for sure at the earliest point it's possible. We'll visit Forfar, who lead the 2nd division at this point.

Despite my disappointment at the pair of matches with Hearts and Rangers, we've really been on an outstanding run, we're 11-1-1 in the last 13 matches. That's better than we have any right to expect, although I hope to keep the run going to the end of the year against largely lighter opposition (spiced by two very tough Euro Cup ties, of course, to wrap up group play).

Monthly results:
Hibernian 3-1 Odense Boldklub (OB) (Euro Cup Group E) (Zemmama 7, Wotherspoon 39, Absalonsen o.g. 49 - Gislason 90+1)
Hibernian 0-0 Hearts
Rangers 3-1 Hibernian (Lafferty 35, Jelavic 51, Weiss 81 - Bougherra 48)
Hibernian 3-1 Motherwell (Rankin 59, de Graaf 66 pen, Hogg 88 - Blackman 90+2)
Inverness CT 0-2 Hibernian (Nish 19, 82)
Aberdeen 1-3 Hibernian (Miller 17, 28, Hogg 86 - Paton 38)
Hibernian 2-0 St Johnstone (Trakys 34, Wotherspoon 73)

End of month table summary (15 played)
1. Aberdeen 34
2. Rangers 32 +17
3. Celtic 32 +16
4. Hibernian 30 (14 pld)
...
10. St Johnstone 14
11. Hamilton 12
12. Inverness 7

Team Leaders:
Goals: Riordan 8, Nish 6, Bamba, Trakys 5
Assists: McBride 9, Nish 7, Galbraith 5, Stevenson, Hart 4
Passing: Miller 85%, Thicot 83%, McBride 81%, Stevenson 80%
Rating: Bamba 7.41, Miller 7.24, McBride 7.22, Hogg 7.19

Finances:
Things got better as expected due to the fixture list - income up to £1.07m (from £469k), expenses £990k (from £820k). The profit for the month is small, leaving us at £3.28m for the year.
December 2010

Match: Hibernian - Bayer Leverkusen (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 1-0 (Nish 1)
Group Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: We get such a helpful goal to start, Nish winds up and fires and it changes direction perhaps 20 degrees off his defender and beats Adler just inside the post when he was looking to the other side of the goal. 1st minute. It's a terribly long time to try to play with the lead against a superior side. We did have a superb first 10 minutes, then the lead is almost gone on 19, a long shot clangs off the bar and loanee Macheda volleys the long carom in from the penalty spot, but he had come back from an offside position to find the flight of the ball. We have no more real scoring chances despite dominating play in a surprising way for most of the half until Leverkusen surge late. They deflect everything attempted goalwards, and nothing else has deflected in our favor; technically we have a 10-6 shots advantage but we haven't troubled Adler - what got to him had all the pace taken off by deflection. The second half is more and more desperation, Leverkusen get closer and closer... in the 90th there are two cracks and Brown stands on his head to keep them out, but still three minutes stoppage. Two corners, then Brown fields a header. What a match it was, and we've pulled another miracle out of the bag of tricks! A first-minute goal has held up for the win, and beyond all expectations, we've qualified for the knockout stage! It looks like we needed this one, Villarreal look like they found their missing form, completely taking apart OB 7-0 - but now the result of our match in two weeks means nothing as they can't catch either us or Leverkusen.

This is unexpected and satisfying... I know at the start when I was naive I talked about making the knockout round but after the competition we've faced I'm really quite surprised. Porto (final qualifying round opponent) and Leverkusen are challenging for their respective league titles at the moment, both in 2nd; Villarreal have had a rocky start to the season but even though 10th in Spain they're only a few points from 5th.

Match: Hibernian - St Mirren
Score: 1-0 (Galbraith 48)
League Position: 3rd (pending Sunday matches)
Final Thoughts: It's a poor and injury-filled first half. We've got nothing to show against St Mirren, who gave us so much trouble the first meeting. Two half time subs and we seemed to come out a bit better to start the second, and a goal didn't take long - Galbraith rising for a header. Still, it's anything but convincing. Koroma showed another flash of skill, lulling a defender and then dropping for a wide open McBride with a little back heel (the shot was pushed wide by the keeper). If Koroma could only put his pieces together more... I guess that's what being 20 means. We do hang on for the win, unconvincingly. We're outshot 17-14 - we should NOT be giving up 17 shots in a home match against a poor side; most of the other stats are pretty even, and showing a difference in attacking intent, they earned seven corners to our two. Two tough outings with St Mirren, we'll need to sort something out as far as tactics before the third meeting two months from now. Koroma, who came on at the half, was grading at 6.8 in the first 15 minutes, but then vanished from play and staff ended up grading him at 6.0. I administer a little kick, but I've almost lost confidence he'll amount to much based on the lack of progress. We've temporarily moved to 3rd, pending Monday's Aberdeen-Celtic match. Then it's a question of licking our wounds and getting ready for the Wednesday/Saturday pair with Hamilton, the only league club we haven't faced yet this season.

The league table is Rangers 35, Aberdeen 34, Hibernian 33, Celtic 32 with only Rangers on 16 played; so Aberdeen-Celtic is very meaningful. I'll make the trip north to watch it. 2-1 Celtic. It seems this refereeing crew was working off Celtic's reputation, Aberdeen had two first-half goals VERY questionably ruled out, and some dubious yellow cards against. They finally got a deserved equalizer on 58 when Celtic were calling for another offside. Aberdeen are scary good, they were clearly the better side on the pitch for the first 70 minutes, but they didn't have the measure of Celtic for the full 90 and with some bad luck it cost them.

So a diversion into transfer plans. I'd like to say I want to strengthen, but it's more like consolidate and plan for the future. Grounds can go back to his parent club, and that will leave us £4500 in salary space. No point having Duffy around when I won't play him, so I'll terminate that loan, making it £6500. With that I'd like to lock up the contracts of a few players - Lewis Stevenson and Steven Thicot, who are young and have "upside" (still have to think a bit about Thicot, will he get good enough?). Possibly also Wotherspoon; although he doesn't expire for 18 months, he's on peanuts and it might be prudent to lock him up for a longer term. We need a left back to back up Hanlon, who's good enough to be the starter once Grounds has left. Hanlon (20) is tipped a future star at center back, but we'll need him here more. And we still need a striker who can be a trouble consistently. Then it gets harder.

Sol Bamba has been our most impactful player - not only does he make all the key plays defending that you need to rescue dangerous situations (in spite that he collects too many cards), but he pops up with goals. But he absolutely won't sign for us again; after failing to make an impact as a youngster at PSG, he's spent five years in Scotland, two at Dunfermline and in his third here at Hibernian. It's clear he's ready for bigger things, and at 25, he shouldn't wait a whole lot longer. So what do I do - if he still shows no signs of being willing to discuss an extension, do I try to wring some cash for him by selling in January, or do I keep him at the club all season and get nothing at the end? I've already asked the club to increase the amount I get to keep from transfers, and they've agreed 55% is too restrictive, but I won't act until the question is answered (indeed, on Bamba, I'd like to get as much season as I can from him, so hopefully late Jan. if anything at all). The other player, discussed before, is Marouanne Zemmama, his contract runs out at an odd time. He's willing to stay, but his salary expectations are out of our range, at least as he's not nearly our best central midfield player, rather our 5th or so. I can't break the bank for that. Do I try some sort of cashing in? Liam Miller is our best central midfielder, he's listed as our one key player and makes the highest salary. Do I extend him early? How about what are likely to be the two remaining central defenders, Hogg and Dickoh?

Match: Hibernian - Hamilton Academical
Score: 0-0
League Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: This was a huge day for us - a chance to go top of the table. Despite the stakes - will there be such an opportunity again if we pass this one up? - the team sleepwalk through the scoreless first half, we're not nearly good enough to just have it handed to us on a platter. We get some help in the second half as Nigel Hasselbaink slides in from behind on a tackle and sees read in the 48th. I make two subs and it so nearly pays off instantly as Koroma has another one of those moments, shaking clear down the left and coming in to feed absolutely inch-perfectly onto the foot of the other sub Murray, who hits it the same direction the keeper is going, from four yards out! Hard to blow a scoring chance from that distance, but he's done it, just guessed wrong and couldn't avoid the keeper. We do score a lovely goal on 80, but no surprise, it's waved off. With only stoppage time left it's clear we're about to blow this chance. And indeed we do, what a dismal showing. Couldn't score at home, on a poor team, played nearly half the match with a man advantage, and with a chance to go top of the table. Pathetic. So now after the full 16 rounds, one point separates the top four, Rangers and Celtic on 35; Hibernian and Aberdeen on 34!

Match: Hamilton Academical - Hibernian
Score: 1-2 (McDonald 84 - Bamba 29, Trakys 67)
League Position: 2nd (pending Sunday matches)
Final Thoughts: We had a statistically proficient half hour, passing at a 90% rate and holding 71% of the ball - even though we weren't set up to try specifically for control. The good news was we finally scored, Nish heading one down and getting the slightest of taps from Bamba before the keeper could get it. The bad news at that point was no other signs of attacking prowess, only one other shot on target and that a harmlessly weak one. The Accies seem to be in the St Mirren category for us, we just can't quite unlock them. We weren't better in the second half but got a second goal on a counter, lovely long diagonal ball and sub Trakys actually managed to finish one as he was alone vs. the keeper on the left. Wotherspoon set him up, and how did the defense let him sneak that far behind, anyway? Brown had to rescue us just off the restart. Sterling defensive work held the ball out on a multi-try chance. Hamilton cut it in half on 84, would we be able to hang on? There were some hairy moments for a while, but then we managed to hold the ball for a bit in stoppage, winning a couple of corners and survived the very end to claim the win. 2nd place for now. Rangers lost, so they're 4th.

We have to do something to shake the blahs that come from playing too much, with too many matches that look important, etc. The staff have started to nudge me about complacency against teams with a lower reputation, and believe me, it's not something I needed nudging about (in particular, consider the dropped points at home to Hamilton). But this match isn't the one to fix that, this is a dead rubber, and one I pretty much expect to lose, away to what should be a better club. I'd like to say this is one more chance to prove something, but I'm leery of going to the well too often. I'm having a hard time deciding, who plays. The top batch have some justification in wanting to be exposed to more European football, and to European observers (although to be honest, I'm not sure who'll be on the wider TV broadcasts, probably this one won't go anywhere but Scotland and Spain. On the other hand, we have tired players and we have other business coming up.

Match: Villarreal - Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E)
Score: 1-3 (Mauricio 61 - Zemmama 68, Galbraith 80, Hogg 85)
Group Position: 1st (winner)
Commentary/thoughts: Well, it's Europe, and heck... what if there's some more UEFA points on offer if Villarreal don't end up caring? We're going to play. The first scoring chance goes to Jozy Altidore, who blasts a shot as close as you can get without scoring, underside of the bar and down on top of the line, but not behind it. When Murray is injured in the 20th, we have to put in a less defensively skilled player in Zemmama, but of course he's got more offensive skills. Big Jozy has another chance after he's fed Nilmar and the shot comes loose, but the superb Bamba muscles him off the ball. We lose another to injury, right back Welsh, hope this one doesn't end up too costly. Like the season as a whole, we've not defended as well as I'd like as a team all over the pitch, but when the ball gets inside the 18 it's been absolutely astonishing. In the 2nd, Nilmar fails for the 3rd or maybe 4th time to beat Brown, then we spurned our one chance so far when Wotherspoon heads a free kick off the bar (that one I won't blame him for, it was a tough chance). We made a good show of it for an hour but the Villarreal goal when it comes has an air of inevitability. McBride glances a shot off the outside of the post just a couple of minutes later. Astonishingly, the play sets up for Zemmama and he coolly controls the ball until he's got a shot and puts it home, we've had exactly zero breaks of that sort so far, but 1-1 on 68 minutes it is. Seven minutes later it all looks promising again but it ends badly as the mercurial Nish - it's feast or famine with him - is ruled to have tripped a player as he goes to score and he earns a yellow card. For Nish, it's the 10th card, which is a pretty good haul for a striker for around half a season. It sets up for Nish on the right and he fires, the keeper punches it away and in one of the more astonishing finishes off a rebound I've seen Galbraith just takes one touch to control and bangs it in from 20 and we're up 2-1 in the 80th minute. The referee continued to trouble us by giving out undeserved cards... but Galbraith is so fired up now it's visible, and he earns us a corner which Hogg bangs in. Against all expectations we're going to win this one! The mood and performance is so different now than it was back in the first half... we easily clean out Villareal attack and they foul in desperation. Zemmama made a play where Nish could maybe have scored, but he was not watching and stopped his run. Am I going to regret that we can't keep Zemmama? He's been superb this game. But to be honest, maybe this is the situation he shines in, not Scottish slog-through-the-icy-mud football. No time for one last corner, and several of the Villarreal players run off the field holding their heads. This one, the players get the highest praises for, although privately, I'll note my half-time tactical change to stop trying to play ball control with Villarreal and just pitch the ball up-field when available seems to have worked out too. Zemmama is man of the match with serious competition from Galbraith.

Here are the 16 qualifiers from the ECC: AC Milan and Tottenham; Real Madrid and Manchester United; Valencia and FC Bayern Munich; Dynamo Kyiv and Olympique Lyonnais; Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk; Inter Milan and Schalke; Olympique Marseille and Chelsea; Barcelona and Roma.

That leaves eight 3rd place finishers to drop into the Euro Cup: Spartak Moscow, Anderlecht, Sampdoria, Benfica, Bursaspor, Zenit St Petersburg, Panathinaikos and Ajax. Disappointing Rangers didn't even make that cut, three draws left them 4th in group C. We need to float all boats in lifting the reputation of Scottish football.

And the Euro Cup qualifiers from group play are: Getafe and AJ Auxerre; CSKA Moscow and FC Kobenhavn; Juventus and Dortmund; Celtic and Sporting CP; Hibernian and Leverkusen; Atletico Madrid and Braga; AZ Alkmaar and Lokomotiv Moscow; Lille Metropole and Olympiakos; Palermo and Feyenoord; Paris Saint-Germain and PSV; Sevilla and Besiktas; RB Salzburg and Manchester City.

Liverpool, now #1 in England, stumble on the last matchday, they lose in France to Auxerre and with identical details in the table, lost out to Auxerre on head-to-head (one draw, one loss). So heck, we're better than the EPL leaders as we've qualified, right? :)

Now the exciting stuff, what will the Euro Cup draw bring us? Both the first and second knockout rounds will be drawn... it's at a point where it's all good teams. We get Olympiakos in the first knockout round, and the winner gets the Anderlecht/Getafe winner. The ECC pairings are OL-Arsenal, Roma-OM, Shakhtar-Barca, ManU-Milan, Chelsea-Inter, Schalke-Kyiv, Spurs-Valencia, Bayern-Madrid. That's worked out to be quite a tournament, and wouldn't it be great to be part of that story some day? Seriously, we're nowhere near that level this year, and won't be next year, or the year after. Getting to the ECC possible, nobody has taken complete control of the SPL race, but making it out of the group stage would be another story, I'd assume years of growth needed before that's possible. And some finances have to improve for that to even become possible. Consider the champions of the SPL the last two seasons have just finished last in their group, and they've got a playing staff and a budget like we can't dream of at the moment.

I've gone to watch our U19s who haven't been very good, and frankly, there's not much potential talent in the squad, but they put together something special in this one, beating the Rangers youth 2-0 and being far more dangerous, some finishing quality could easily have let it be 5-0 or more. Finishing quality. Funny, I seem to have been complaining about that in the senior side too.

Okay, I've found myself a pair of striker targets, the question is if I can lure them in. One is an older player but maybe we could get a quick boost; the other is a youngster. I'm trying to figure out how to do this subtly enough that we can actually bring them in, on our very limited funds, without someone else getting wise and snapping them up under our noses by offering more, that we can't match. Shhhhhh.... The tricky part about looking at players is not to target ones are too high a level, because they'll turn us down or be too expensive, but also not too low a level - players whose potential seems good for a top-four challenge may not be good enough in a few years when we're hoping to be title contender/winner... quite a balancing act, really.

Back to business. Three matches to finish off the calendar year, plus another on 2nd Jan. Then we've got a chance to catch our breaths a bit, as we play the 8th, 16th and 23rd of Jan - that's two consecutive full weeks. To be honest, I came in with a plan for a training regime that was based on a match a week, yet we've played mid-week 15 times already (to be fair, a couple of those did knock out a week-end match, but still...). As I just asked, have we gotten to so many high profile matches that the lower reputation clubs are starting to become a problem? It's not that we've solved the high-reputation problem either, as we still have to make a step up domestically. 8-1-1 in Europe (wow!) and 2-0-0 against inferior competition in the League Cup do nice things to our overall record, but we'll have to face the Old Firm eight times in league competition and perhaps also in the cups. We have a nice 11-4-2 record in the league, but that breaks down to 0-1-2 v. Old Firm, 11-3-0 v. everyone else. With five more six-pointers (this is assuming we're all three on the upper side of the split, which seems a given) to go v. Old Firm clubs, that's got to get better or we're not finishing top two. Indeed top-two would be a great finish, but in the new and downgraded world of Scottish football, from this season only one team qualifies for ECC football (and that at the 2nd qual round), the next three are Euro Cup (unless the Scottish Cup winner bumps one). We've got to buckle down and clean up on the clubs below us, and snatch points from Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen - draws at least.

It's interesting getting ready to play Killie, one of their key players is Alexei Eremenko, who despite what his name might suggest, is a fellow Finn. We have a bit of a chat. Eremenko, with his younger brother Roman, are Finnish internationals, born in Rostov but the family moved to Finland when Alexei was seven. Alexei is the property of Ukraine club Metalist and on loan to Kilmarnock, while Roman now plays for Dinamo Kyiv after some time at Udinese.

Match: Kilmarnock - Hibernian
Score: 0-0
League Position: 3rd
Final Thoughts: I don't like the start at all, and while we improved play a bit there's no sign of a goal in the first half - or indeed for the full match as Riordan botches our only serious chance. Pathetic. I've really got no idea how to fix this, we can beat some of Europe's better teams but more and more we can't play well against some of Scotland's poorer ones. Stevenson will miss quite some time after doing his hamstring, which doesn't help. Celtic are starting assert themselves, six league wins on the trot now.

Match: Hibernian - Aberdeen
Score: 2-0 (Miller 30, Riordan 42)
League Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: Okay, lot of problems still, but after Miller puts us ahead, Riordan finally scores after something like 700 minutes of football. Pretty much, his injury knocked him completely out of form. Any chance it's back? Anyway, much better; a match we dominated a whole lot more than statistics end up showing. A Rangers draw establishes us firmly in 2nd, but Celtic are still streaking, this time a 3-0 win over St Johnstone. This is our (and everyone's) half-way point, we're 12-5-2 on 41 points, which would, if we stayed on pace, come out to an 82-point season. Remember Hibernian had 54 last season, so that would be a remarkable improvement.

Match: Hibernian - Dundee United
Score: 3-0 (Koroma 12, Nish 33, Rankin 73)
League Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: In the rain, Koroma scored his first ever Hibernian goal and Nish added one on the half hour. We weren't that sharp in the half; only 50% of our tackles were successful and the failures mostly turned into fouls, which we had a lot of. Koroma's match comes to an end early in the second after he's clattered by Kovacevic. Very rare participant Rankin adds a capper soon after coming on. Decent show; we seemed to straighten out our problems in the 2nd half, although the ref continued a little fussy. We didn't take a lot of chances, but since we were efficient, we didn't need to - three goals on seven shots. Bad news on Koroma - broken toe, he's out a long time, so our striker problem continues dicey.

I've bid on the one target I mentioned, and it wasn't kept quiet at all, we've had it accepted and a contract offered, but four other good bids are in, from Almeria, Braga, Hercules and Levante, and Lecce is also interested. So this one looks not to be high odds for us. We can only wait and see now.

Monthly results:
Hibernian 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Euro Cup Group E) (Nish 1)
Hibernian 1-0 St Mirren (Galbraith 48)
Hibernian 0-0 Hamilton Academical
Hamilton Academical 1-2 Hibernian (McDonald 84 - Bamba 29, Trakys 67)
Villarreal 1-3 Hibernian (Euro Cup Group E) 1-3 (Mauricio 61 - Zemmama 68, Galbraith 80, Hogg 85)
Kilmarnock 0-0 Hibernian
Hibernian 2-0 Aberdeen (Miller 30, Riordan 42)
Hibernian 3-0 Dundee United (Koroma 12, Nish 33, Rankin 73)

In all, a good month; however a chance to end the calendar year in first went by the boards due to two league draws against considerably weaker opposition, so some concern still.

End of year league table, 20 played:
1. Celtic 47
2. Hibernian 44
3. Rangers 42
4. Aberdeen 41
...
10. St Mirren 18
11. Hamilton 16
12. St Johnston 14

Team leaders:
Goals: Riordan 9, Nish 8, Bamba, Trakys 6
Assists: McBride, Nish 10, Galbraith 6, Stevenson 5
Passing: Miller 85%, Thicot 83%, Stevenson 81%, McBride 81%
Rating: Bamba 7.36, Hogg 7.19, McBride 7.14, Galbraith, Hart 7.12

Finances:
Another small profit and we're sitting at around £3.5m profit for the year, £6m in funds on hand.
January 2011

The big news is that as the year turns to 2011, the club offer to make more money available to continue our challenge. We were at 200k transfer budget, 41k salary budget; now the board are offering 1.7m transfer budget, 52k salary budget. This is a big change, and unfortunately, our main body of scouting knowledge is vested in players who would be available for very low transfer fees. I guess it doesn't hurt to stay cheap, though! I could get more if I signed up for higher expectations, but I guess it's safer not to do that.

I guess I've committed to getting a striker now, I cut off the Duffy loan, so we're down to three, although Galbraith has learned to be competent there, or we can play with just one up top. There's a bid in for a free one, Junior Agogo (out-of-character aside: entirely independently of my pursuit of this player which was already in progress, it turns out real-life Hibernian has just signed him, of course in real-life terms it's six months later, we're at Jan 2011 and I write this as it's really July 2011). This is a boost for now, not a plan for later; like Trakys who's already with the club he's over 30 and he's "homeless" in footballing terms. There's a planned pursuit of a young striker as well, to build for the future. And Koroma, who's really not ready yet, will be back eventually. The timing of his injury was unfortunate, I was going to seek him a loan so he could get more regular playing time and continue his evolution, but he'll still look too "damaged" by the end of the window so that's not possible.

We came in to our Derby match knowing there was an opportunity to improve our position after Rangers and Celtic drew in an Old Firm derby. But last time, back in November, we showed nothing indicating an ability to break them down, and that was at home. While we were missing some key players due to tiredness that time, since then we've developed a definite trend of not playing our best if the competition isn't top flight. With our next league match two weeks from now v. Celtic, it's important for us to get at least a point here. I don't have a magic strategy this time, we're just going to have to go out and play well.

Match: Hearts - Hibernian
Score: 1-0 (Elliot 2)
League Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: I prepared for this match more than any other, and I guess I got it wrong as we had a very bad start, the back line lost Elliot and he scores in the 2nd minute. A mistake let Nish through and of course he couldn't beat the keeper. Elliott had space again in the 21st, this time he didn't get off a great shot, right at Brown. Our plans evaporated as the half progressed, and an early 60/40 possession advantage is down to 50/50. It was Hearts that were closest to scoring, a late shot off the crossbar. Nish gets the hook at half-time, I switch Galbraith and Riordan so it's Galbraith up top - probably a temporary move, and look for creativity by adding Zemmama as AMC. The effect of all this adjustment is we're shown two yellow cards in the first five minutes, not exactly the way I drew up the tactics. The first shot of any quality since the early chance for Nish is Zemmama's on 72. A symbol of futility was Zemmama attempting a pass and whiffing on the ball, leading to a break the other way. I feel utterly useless as a manager after a match like this one. You do everything you can, and the players just won't play to their abilities. Where was the magic that appeared beating Leverkusen and Villarreal? bbc.co.uk/sport: "I don't think I'm the only one who will be surprised by this result. Hibernian should have recorded a comfortable win over Hearts yet they find themselves on the end of a defeat." I am not kind in my post-match talk, this kind of performance just isn't on. It's not safe for me to attend the post-match press conference, but I don't want to set the precedent of ducking them, either. That's two matches in the derby without even a serious threat to score. Aberdeen suffer a bit of the malaise too, Monday they lose at home to Dundee. They could have gotten back level on points with us, and jumped ahead of Rangers, but failed to take advantage.

Agogo has accepted our offer, of course it's going to take a while to get him up to match fitness as he's been out of football. We've had two transfer offers accepted, and now we're waiting to see if the players can agree personal terms with us. These are Dundee's Barry Douglas, our potential left back solution; and Callum McRobbie of Aberdeen whom they transfer listed for 95k, an 18yo striker. At the moment, there are no bids we know of for either. All three of these players fit my policy of the moment, I won't go after players who aren't "above three stars" potential, as if we expect to move up in the world, current three-star players will end up not being considered good enough.

The young striker I was most enthusiastic about is one I haven't been able to bid for, Alexey Rudenok of BATE, now Schalke have had a bid accepted for him. They aren't restricted by the work permit issues we have in the UK.

I've finally got friendlies set up for the reserves, for the next three Wednesdays, a little action for the reserves and players needing to get fitness up (this includes Agogo).

The second player to accept a move arrives, Barry Douglas. We're now set for the expiry of the Jonathan Grounds loan. We've locked up two more young players to longer contracts, Stevenson and Wotherspoon, which means we've now got six players tied to long-term deals (the others are Galbraith, Hanlon, Douglas and Koroma). Still facing 13 contracts expiring this year. With the signings and extensions we're now spending £46,750 on salaries, but that's about to go down by £3800 in another week, so to date we've not really gone much over our original target salary of £42000. The new target is £2000 but I want to not push it to the edge with all those contracts to consider, have to decide which other ones I can't leave till late without risking the players signing for other clubs. The "long" contracts are all young players, the oldest of those six is Stevenson at age 23.

Elsewhere, Gervinho gets a provisional work permit for his move to Chelsea.

I'm going to try a new approach for a bit: instead of saying so much, I'm going to just have the players play. That is, of course we'll work on tactical setups, but I won't give a pre-match pep talk, and I won't respond to press urgings to speculate on the match or divulge plans. We'll see how that goes.

Douglas played in 19 of Dundee's 24 games with a rating of 6.98, so he should be ready to step in right away. He's still young at 21, this has been his first season in the top flight after coming up with Queen's Park, who bounced between the 2nd and 3rd division while he was there.

We now have competition for McRobbie (the young striker) from QPR, but it seems they're trying to get him on a free for next season, if he wants to come to a new club now he needs to pick us.

Match: Forfar - Hibernian (Scottish Cup 4th rnd)
Score: 0-3 (Riordan 38, Douglas 45, 85)
Final Thoughts: I sent out a mostly changed lineup from Hearts and we set up to attack from the opening whistle - keeping it wide to keep Forfar from parking the bus too much. That got us a ton of possession (74%) but no serious scoring chance except one de Graaf blew, until Riordan turns in traffic and scores from inside the box. He hadn't had one like that in ages, well before his injury - the lead was 38 minutes in coming. Douglas pots his first of the season in his first game for Hibs. In the second, Tulloch was extremely clumsy going in on Zemmama, and that earned him red. Trakys failed to score from five yards out, couldn't miss the keeper. Douglas got a second late. Hmmm, I didn't buy him for his scoring (he was playing left midfield rather than left back this match though). Good enough, but this is the slowest-moving side when I instruct them to attack that I think I've ever seen. Maybe we can find some way to work on movement.... Shots 17-2, possession 68/32 - and we were not set up to play a possession game specifically. Worthy of note is Thicot having a 40/40 passing game. And really, Douglas wasn't far behind, being 41/45.

In the featured Sunday cup match, Rangers 3-2 Celtic; the other Sunday match is Hearts 3-0 St Johnstone. From Saturday, other SPL participants: Inverness won; Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Hamilton face replays to lower teams; and St Mirren-Dundee also goes to a replay.

Fortune smiles on us in the 5th rnd draw: we've got division 2 East Fife, and it's at home. Rangers will host Berwick/Aberdeen, you'd expect the latter; in any case a second top-four competitor will be out of the picture for sure by the end of the 5th round as Rangers and Aberdeen can't possibly both go through.

Miller and Agogo have taken training ground injuries in the last couple of days. Neither too bad; Agogo, and Stevenson who's been out for a bit, should be back in training any day now.

Another bit of decent news: our third January transfer, Callum McRobbie, agrees terms and arrives. While he was intensely loyal to Aberdeen, it seems he just couldn't get along with manager Mark McGhee, and was thrilled to move on. That presumably tipped the scales to us as we offered him a way out six months earlier than QPR did.

Scouts and staff have suggested we go after central midfielder Paul Coutts, who's currently toiling at Preston North End. He'd be great for us; he's the type of player I like for the role, similar to several we have (and won't all keep) but more skilled; he's Scottish, and currently the Scotland U21 captain although that can't last long as he's 22 now. Unfortunately, he's become too expensive for us, scouts think he would take £2m to pry loose.

The Scottish Cup replays see the 4 SPL clubs playing at home move on, the real battle was Dundee - St Mirren (not surprising, two SPL clubs) which had to go to penalties to settle for Dundee.

Grounds returns to Middlesbrough, having started 22 times and one sub for us, overall rating 7.03. That includes 13 league matches, two domestic cup matches and seven continental (Euro Cup).

Match: Hibernian - Celtic
Commentary: Celtic's manager Lennon indicated he thought this could be a decisive match for the title race. That's a nice politically correct thing to say, but they've got a four point lead - a win for them puts us seven behind, possibly/probably fatal; a win for us puts us a point behind, so certainly not fatal to Celtic. Not sure it needs mentioning that the weather in Edinburgh in mid-January was bad. The start is good, Wotherspoon picked out by Riordan wide right and after a run of 40 yards his cross glances out for a corner; that's put in on two headers, Bamba heads back from the far side and Dickoh at the near post heads it in, 3rd minute. Celtic looked to have leveled on 12 from Maloney but it's offside; Samaras on 15 puts one in that does count (a rebound of a shot off the woodwork from Stokes which otherwise would have beaten Brown easily). I'm worried about the ease with which we were carved open twice. Make it three times, Maloney hits one back where Samaras strikes the volley into the net from the middle, but Maloney is judged offside. Just 22 minutes in and it's been in the net three times, we need a correction quickly! Mulgrew clatters Wotherspoon just outside the box and the corner is nearly scored - that was close two ways for us. Celtic continue to make chances, Juarez has an open chance that he misses badly and an open corner is headed wide; then Samaras gets open, passes for an even better shot and that's whizzed just past the far post from Douglas. At this point, Celtic could have six if the fates fell differently. But late in the half the game changes character, a long ball seeking Riordan wasn't going to result in anything (defenders back) but Mulgrew came through from the side and tripped him, and the referee somewhat harshly showed a second yellow. The second half starts utterly differently from the first, it is now a game of tackling and interceptions with nobody making progress, and inevitably there was going to be a problem... and it's Douglas penalised for a tackle that looked no worse than the others, but he's shown a straight red. Celtic cash in just moments later - they win one corner which we clear but the second Samaras heads in, 1-2 in the 70th. We pass the ball around from the kickoff and score, Riordan rounding a defender after having Galbraith poke the ball to him on a slide, 2-2 on 72. The ref takes another chance to insert himself into the match in the 81st as Galbraith appeared to run over Stokes from behind going for a header, but it's Stokes who is penalised by being shown is second yellow - an amazing third sending off. Up 10 men to 9 we scores pretty quickly Galbraith just a bit out front and with the defender recovering he shielded with his body to fire left footed (which is his strong foot) to score the winner!
Score: 3-2 (Dickoh 3, Riordan 72, Galbraith 85 - Samaras 15, 70)
League Position: 2nd
Final Thoughts: Well. We've snatched three points from an Old Firm team. I don't want to read too much into it as an individual match performance, we showed some toughness but Celtic were the better side until the referee started changing the equation, and after the first half they had, they deserved more than one goal I'd say. But you have to convert your chances, not just deserve them. It seemed like Celtic had about a hundred chances in the first half but in the end we held them to eight shots (the two early balls in the net of course not counting as shots). Put in a season context, on the other hand, I rate this one very highly - it's already been a long haul, as we've played 35 times overall, and that was a moment when we threatened to fall a long way out of the title race; instead we've saved it to continue the fight. I still don't think we have the quality to win the title but we've left ourselves with the chance at least, and that's what you ask for.

Mid-way through the month, and thus the transfer window, staff sit down for for several hours with me and we really seriously talk about the vision for the club. There are those 13 expiring senior contracts, what does it mean, who do we want to secure for the future? We want to secure renewals for DC Dickoh (especially knowing we have no hope at Bamba, indeed two days after this meeting it's formally announced he'll sign with Porto for the next season), for MC Thicot and Miller, and for forward Riordan. There are two central midfielders who are on the outside of the first XI, Thicot and Rankin, but Thicot is younger and we think there's still some untapped potential there at 23. The problem is agents for Miller and Riordan have already presented proposals for more money than we're allowed to pay any player, and more than I think is warranted. The revised board limit is 5200, Miller (top earner at 4000) wants 6250 and Riordan (on 3000 and a career Hibee) wants 7250. Riordan has an especial value has he counts as a grown at club player, Miller is grown in nation. We will not, unless something drastic happens to change our minds, offer new contracts to forwards Nish and Trakys, nor to midfielder Zemmama (whom I'd be willing to keep at an economical rate, but his crowd is looking for much more). At least one of the two backup keepers, Stack and Smith, will be gone; I'm guessing I can get a different backup keeper so maybe both, if not, Smith gets the edge counting as a grown in nation player. One more midfielder, McBride, we're on the fence about. McBride has played above his head much of the season, and has been excellent filling in for Miller when he was hurt; that's worth something but on talent he's little behind. It perhaps depends on the price we can renew him for. Another on the fence is defender Hogg... he's pretty good, and the team captain, and again there's the certainty of losing key DC Bamba, but we're thinking there are DC candidates we can bring in in the summer that would be an upgrade and we have Hanlon, who's very highly regarded although his main role this season has been second choice left back. So that's the 13... I'm worried about a creative force in central midfield, we'll lose Zemmama who's made some impact there, and don't know if we can keep Miller who looked the part for just a few matches until he tore his hamstring in late August, and hasn't since he came back three months later - he's had two great matches and nine that are nothing to take notice of (oddly, the two great ones were both v. Aberdeen). Miller, by the way, has been the property of first Celtic, then Man United, then Sunderland, and then a half season at QPR before joining us. I'm a little loath to offer him "the maximum" until I see more from him, and not sure he'll take our maximum allowed offer anyway.

So when we look, we're okay at keeper but will need to upgrade eventually, Brown isn't a long-term answer for competing in Europe, etc.; in pretty good shape on the back line even though losing our best player of this year (we'll strengthen for next year, maybe right after the window closes in order to lock some up early), including being set for the future at fullback (with an experienced guy in Hart holding down the right side for now as Welsh or maybe even Hanlon get ready for the future), set for the future in the midfield wide positions, and looking for a future in central midfield. One option we've not looked at too much there is Stevenson, who's been second choice ML, moving into the middle where we think he's better but where there's a glut of players today - it's just the quality there isn't all we'd want. The strike force is in transition, and where it goes is unknown because of a couple of questions; Agogo is a short term solution (contract through 2012) that we hope will fill a support role; Nish and Trakys will go after this season; McRobbie looks very promising; Koroma is rather an unknown, with potential but completely unproven; and we don't know if we can keep Riordan. For the rest of this season, though, it's as good as we can expect to get. Especially if Stevenson ends up moving into the middle as opposed to us bringing in someone new, we don't have great answers as second choice in the wide midfield positions, but the situation is good enough there for this season that I don't want to pay for backups when we're already going to end up skating close to the salary limit.

We don't see that there's another target we have to go after in this window; we added three, lost two, and will lose a third when Zemmama's contract expires on the odd date of March 1. We got some loan players back that I had absolutely no exposure to, and I have to get to know them as well (two turned down loan extensions) - one of them seems to be on the edge of pushing for the senior squad, could use him to back up at left back.

So the first pair of contract extension offers go out to a pair of players who are starting to draw interest elsewhere, Dickoh and Thicot - thus forcing our hand. Both accept. Dickoh is a Ghanaian central defender; Thicot is a French midfielder who can also play central defender, so this is insurance we don't have to do mass back line replacements in the summer knowing Bamba leaves.

We've got a Sunday match at Motherwell, and coming into the match we know excellent things have happened from our viewpoint in the table: Celtic 1-1 Aberdeen, Hearts 1-0 Rangers on Saturday. All three of our competitors have dropped points. Can we capitalize? Sometimes there are just intrinsically low-scoring rounds, but Hamilton have won 4-1 and Kilmarnock 3-0 so this doesn't seem to be one of them (whatever that means!).

Match: Motherwell - Hibernian
Score: 0-4 (Nish 16, Wotherspoon 55, McRobbie 79, Riordan 89)
League Position: 1st !!!
Final Thoughts: So this worked out to be our second chance to go top. I didn't want to put extra pressure on them, but even though it's a new experience to be in the mix (esp. with the young players), I figure they'll understand that second chances are rare in football, even if seasons are long, and we've put ourselves in position to get this chance with the Celtic result, and it needs taking. Colin Nish, who must have a sense he's not in the long term plans, seems to have absorbed the message, he scored on 15 with a pretty high-quality diving header. It's Hart who set it up, he started the season (his first at Hibernian) so well, but has slipped a bit, and now is grumpy that Dickoh got a new contract with a raise. I'll take care of Hart, but not instantly, as I'm still sorting players who are expiring this season. The second half saw Wotherspoon inside the box in the middle receive a pass from Riordan, the first touch is brutal but luckily it bounces to where he can reach and finish. So from poor match to good in one moment for Wotherspoon (I've always said goals matter too much in the ratings, he want from 6.0 to 7.6 on the strength of that, ridiculous). Motherwell were better after the hour mark, but McRobbie gets a debut run-out and scores on 79. That was a nice pass to set him up, and a nice shot from the left, the kind I've complained we get a fair number of and never seem to beat the keeper. If he can keep that up, he'll be a favorite in no time, even though I'm not expecting the 18yo to be a big factor yet this year. Riordan caps the lovely win nicely with a blast off a free kick where Zemmama sent it high instead of directly in front of the goal. This performance I liked! For McRobbie, it's his professional league debut, I've no idea why this guy couldn't play for Aberdeen but he's made a nice start here. And to cap it all, we have seized our second chance at it, and gone top of the table, though it's only a single point, but it sure means something to us. If there's bad news, it's that post-match we hear Barry Douglas has been handed an additional two-match ban for his part in the volatile Celtic match.

We've got kind of an odd patch in the schedule, it's 23 Jan and until 26 Feb we play only two league matches - Dundee away and Kilmarnock at home. In the same stretch we've got a League Cup match, a Scottish Cup match, and both legs of our Euro Cup tie with Olympiakos, as well as a short international break. This means we'll surely get passed for the top without necessarily losing it on our own performances, as we're scheduled to miss the 24th and 27th rounds of play - we'll make one up March 2 (at St Mirren) and one March 9 (home to Rangers).

Riordan re-signs for £4900, joining Dickoh and Thicot in renewing. That means I've put pressure on myself to keep us winning so we can keep bringing in funds - the board did allow us to use more money, but it's from the same pool of funds, so we have to keep pulling in extras (cup win bonuses, Euro Cup funds, SPL placement bonus, etc.). We had £8000 of salary headroom, and have committed £4000 of it - though unless we make a last-minute move, Zemmama's £1500 will go back into the pot March 1. I could take from the transfer budget, but would rather not just to keep the salaries controlled.

Match: Hibernian - Kilmarnock (League Cup Semi - Hampden Park, Glasgow)
Score: 1-0 (Rankin 27)
Final Thoughts: The League Cup semis are split, Tuesday/Wednesday. The Tuesday match is won by Celtic 2-0. For us, surprise starter Rankin - it was just a hunch - gets the scoring going with a rocket from distance in the 27th. We didn't exactly sleep-walk through the first hour, but play could certainly have been more fluid. Brown was shaky, dropped two balls that could have ended up goals. We really mustered very little, and got lucky that what could have been Kilmarnock's tying goal, from Rui Miguel, was waved off for offside. It's not a sterling performance, but it gets a result: we're on to the league cup final with Celtic.

The schedule makers have been nice enough to us, playing a Wednesday cup match, we don't have anything until Monday (Dundee), then the next is a Scottish Cup match on Saturday.

After Saturday wins by Aberdeen and Rangers (Celtic play Sunday, we play Monday) the top is: Hibs 50, Celtic 49, Rangers 49, Aberdeen 48. How's that for tight? Celtic lose Sunday.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian
Score: 1-3 (Shala 88 - McBride 2, Nish 45+1, Stevenson 55)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: McBride just fired a long shot, didn't really look like an opening, but it went in and we had a lead in the 2nd minute. I was immediately concerned when Dundee scored only two minutes later, but the referee finally decided he agreed with the assistant's raised flag. I don't want our season defined by goals we conceded which don't count (remember Celtic), but it's better than the alternative. After a bit of early good play we saw Dundee dominate but not cash in; then Nish created a superb chance which Riordan looked like he only had to tap in, but it slid just wide. Then just before the half we score off one of the best passing sequences I've seen us have, with Nish supplying the finish after Wortherspoon put it on a plate for him. We get a superb goal on 55, Galbraith fakes but looks like he's passing, then whips in a hard diagonal ball that Stevenson nicks with the head and the redirection goes in at the far post. So this time, the chances were there and we took enough of them. Dundee didn't, until one very late, we watched what looked almost a replay of the disallowed goal early, and their man just left too early as we stepped up, it wasn't really even that close despite post-match complaints). Good performance. Both sides took a number of knocks, in our case McBride will miss a month with a hamstring problem, while Galbraith turns out to be okay.

Monthly results:
Hearts 1-0 Hibernian 1-0 (Elliot 2)
Forfar 0-3 Hibernian (Scottish Cup 4th rnd) (Riordan 38, Douglas 45, 85)
Hibernian 3-2 Celtic (Dickoh 3, Riordan 72, Galbraith 85 - Samaras 15, 70)
Motherwell 0-4 Hibernian (Nish 16, Wotherspoon 55, McRobbie 79, Riordan 89)
Hibernian 1-0 Kilmarnock (League Cup Semi - Hampden Park, Glasgow) 1-0 (Rankin 27)
Dundee United 1-3 Hibernian 1-3 (Shala 88 - McBride 2, Nish 45+1, Stevenson 55)

That's a good month after the initial stumble against Hearts, 5-1-0 and we've moved top in the league, against all expectations!

End of month league table, 24/25 played:
1. Hibernian 53 (24 pld)
2. Celtic 49 +27 (24 pld)
3. Rangers 49 +22 (24 pld)
4. Aberdeen 48 (25 pld)
...
10. St Mirren 25 (25 pld)
11. St Johnstone 21 (25 pld)
12. Hamilton 20 (24 pld)

Team leaders:
Goals: Riordan 12, Nish 10, Bamba, Trakys 6
Assists: McBride, Nish 11, Galbraith 8
Passing: Miller 86%, Thicot 85%, Stevenson 82%
Rating: Bamba 7.32, Hogg 7.17, Hart 7.14, McBride, Dickoh 7.13

Leagues around Europe:
EPL (24 pld): Liverpool 49, Arsenal 47, Man United 43, Chelsea 43
La Liga (21): Barcelona 45, R.Madrid 45, Sevilla 41, At.Madrid 40
Serie A (22): Napoli 47, AC Milan 47, Palermo 42, Juventus 41
Ligue 1 (21): Rennes 41, Montpellier 40, OM 39, OL 38, Lille 37
Bundesliga (20): Schalke 42, Bayern 38, Wolfsburg 35, Hoffenheim 34

Finances:
We had a rough looking month financially, combining only one home match (four away, one neutral), although a sellout at £17,400 with Celtic, with spending around £400k in transfer funds.

Transfers:
The season's final set of transfers in (unless we bring in someone free) ends up being:
GK James Dunn, 18, Free (July)
ST Omar Koroma, 20, Free (Sept.)
DC Pedro Santos, 17, Free (Oct.)
ST Junior Agogo, 31, Free (Jan.)
DL Barry Douglas, 21, 300k from Dundee Utd. (Jan)
ST Callum McRobbie, 19, 95k from Aberdeen (Jan)
Where did you find the archive?
hey, welcome, fellow refugee! I didn't find an archive; I had the files I'd posted up on our old site saved on the computer so just redoing from those.
Ahh.... I sent you a message to say hi... Well played

Thank God I had my story running on two sites...
Didn't you end up in Leverkusen eventually?
yes... coming up. trying to dribble this out, since the reports are very long, rather than blast it all out at once!
#46113 mwichmann : yes... coming up. trying to dribble this out, since the reports are very long, rather than blast it all out at once!

Your posts were always much longer than mine... :)
February 2011

Make-up matches on Wednesday (2 Feb) see Celtic win and move to within one point.

Match: Hibernian - East Fife (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd)
Score: 3-1 (Currie 35, McRobbie 48, Agogo 81 - Sloan 59)
Final Thoughts: We're playing much better than East Fife, but not getting a result. Agogo is absolutely flattened in the box and somehow the referee sees this as a foul and a card on Agogo, incomprehensible. Finally it goes in, with both strikers getting a touch and Currie supplying the finish, first ever Hibernian goal. In the second half, McRobbie outruns the back line to a long ball and puts it in. We can't have it be easy though, as they pull one back on a free kick around the hour mark. It looks like it's going to end up a match we'll be criticized for despite dominating, but then a long ball finds only Agogo and he opens his Hibernian account on 82. It was Ian Murray's vision to put it into space with just the right touch to make it an easy play for the striker. Thicot and Murray miss by inches in the next few minutes. The difference, though, is at 3-1 we get praise, at 2-1 we wouldn't have even though we've outshot them 19-2, possession 69/31, passing 83%-65%. Rangers knocked out Aberdeen on Sunday.

The quarter final matchups will be: Hibernian v Partick Thistle, Hearts v Motherwell, Rangers v Kilmarnock or Dunfermline, Hamilton v Dundee United. We've had another apparently favorable draw.

We've made another signing, but not for right away. I've wrapped up the deal for a Finnish center back, Juhani Ojala from HJK (Helsinki) in the Finnish league, and he's intended as the replacement for Bamba. At 21 he should be ready to play, but he's considered to have quite a bit of upside. We waited on this deal to have it take effect in the summer (I'm sure he would have come on now, but we've got enough players back there at the moment), but not so late someone else gets interested after the Finnish season kicks into gear. Now the idea is to make sure he stays healthy and continues to progress for the next half-season. We may or may not do the same for some midfield prospects, not decided yet.

Preparing for the Killie match we need to give a little thought to the upcoming Euro Cup tie. The schedule is not so tight that players can't recover in between - we've got this one Sunday, we're in Greece on Thursday, and home Tuesday. Don't necessarily want the key attackers to be playing all three, though.

Match: Hibernian - Kilmarnock
Score: 2-0 (Riordan 29, Agogo 90+2)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: It was kind of a choppy match, the referee saw fit to hand out 10 yellow cards. We opened the scoring through Riordan and capped it through sub Agogo on a stoppage time header. It's heartening that both the two new forwards look good. We're having a little trouble settling Douglas in, but we'll keep working on it. And Dundee has done us a massive favor beating Celtic, we're four points up on them with a game in hand, and four up on Rangers with an equal number played. The 56 points we now show exceed last season's total of 54.

Match: Olympiakos - Hibernian (EURO Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 1-2 (Pantelic 53 - Riordan 21, Wotherspoon 30)
Final Thoughts: We opened well in the sense that we kept the ball from Olympiakos' feet, but no real threat to go with it. But then lightning struck and we had a vital away goal, on a play I thought we'd blown the chance to get a shot, Zemmama turned towards the middle and put a pass for Riordan, but he was backing up, however Murray was in the area and he left it with just a little tap in the path of the now advancing Riordan, whose blast beat the keeper, 21st. It looks like it's taken only two minutes to level after a shot off the woodwork is followed in, but we can see the assistant on the far side with his flag up. Mmmm, I don't know if that was the wrong call exactly, but it certainly wasn't generous to the home side, later replays seem to show him level, not off. Astonishingly, we scored again on the half hour, from a free kick Wotherspoon controlled nicely and picked his place. McRobbie picks out Riordan with a great pass, Riordan shows some strength to break free, but he can't convert as the keeper came way out. Riordan is robbed again late in the half. Worrying is that Sol Bamba has taken a knock, we'll see if he can shake it off. On 53, Pantelic manages not to be offside finally, and punches one in with a slide. It was set up by a mistake, Hogg had time to play out of trouble or put the ball out but he turned inside, tried to back-pass, and conceded a corner, which Olympiakos scored from. Over the next 20 minutes, Olympiakos looked like they had good chances twice, but the ball ended up weakly to Brown both times. As time was winding down the effort was clearly exhausting the team, subs made but plenty of players gasping for breath. It wasn't hot in Piraeus but still... it's as tense as it gets in the last minutes until Albert Riera is carelessly offside in what wasn't even an attacking position and we're able to run out the last minute. Another famous and astonishing win! Certainly some chances left on the table for Olympiakos. Post-match chatter focuses on the disallowed goal in the 24th minute, I'd prefer to focus on a composed performance by a side that was rated a very considerable underdog.

The concern now is recovery; Bamba is banged up and will certainly miss the second leg although he should be back soon after that. Hanlon will have to go at left back however tired he is as Douglas is cup tied after playing in Dundee's unsuccessful qualifier (they were eliminated by Man City in a rough draw). Wotherspoon is going to have to recover quickly as I don't have anyone I'd want to play for MR. DR Hart we do have a replacement for if needed. I got the other tired players out early enough they should have been able save some. Are we this good, that we can dream hanging on to a one-goal lead, with two away goals? Or were Olympiakos off their game and we get steamrollered in the second leg?

While we're off - I appreciate we did get the time off since we were picked for the Tuesday TV match but would rather just have had a normal schedule - Aberdeen draw Saturday and it's another Old Firm match Sunday: Celtic 2-0 Rangers. That leaves the top of the table as Hibernian 56/25pld, Celtic 55/27, Rangers 52/26, Aberdeen 52/27.

We're already into the third loop through the table, we're 0-1-1 v. Rangers, 0-1-1 v. Hearts; 1-1-0 v. St Mirren and Hamilton but real struggles against both in both matches. We're done with Motherwell, 3-0-0 and g.d. +8, too bad we don't face them again :). The other team we've beaten easily so far is our next opponent, Inverness, whom we've beaten twice with an aggregate 7-0 scoreline. Also done with Kilmarnock, 2-1-0 gd +3, a much rougher matchup. We've also got another with Celtic and another with Aberdeen before the split, which will in all probability see us facing Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee in our final five (Dundee could possibly get caught for the final spot although it will be hard)... so it will still be a devilish difficult path to stay top. We'd love it, of course, but despite some superb results I don't feel like we're at that level yet, and being pushed into ECC qualifier in the late summer is definitely something we're not at the level for yet.

Interesting statistic, of the outfield players who have appeared, 21 have scored this season; the outliers are defenders Hanlon, Hart and Grounds (who has since returned to his parent club) and midfielder Murray. Murray is certainly capable of it, in his original stint with Hibernian he scored as many as eight (in 2002-3). Murray left on a free to Rangers, lasted two years before moving on a free to Norwich, then returned in January 2008 on another free. Hart, on the other hand, has never scored a league goal in 217 appearances (don't have stats on non-league appearances) spanning 14 seasons. There's another former Hibs player floating around, Garry O'Connor, a striker, in a way it's too bad we're full up on strikers now. He was here from the start of his career in 1999 until 2006, when he left for Lokomotiv Moscow, then on to Birmingham, a transfer that cost £2.7m They've let him go, and he's played no football this season.

Match: Hibernian - Olympiakos (EURO Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Commentary: With Edinburgh rocking with football excitement finally, we sell out the ground. It is important to set a tone early that we're in some sort of control of proceedings, and we are able to do that, but then about 10 minutes in it starts to look shaky. Leaving Rommedahl alone is never a good idea, and by 15 minutes he's put three dangerous crosses in. We've got nothing on at all, it's a hard-tackling game. Riordan takes a very speculative shot from a tough angle and it clips the bar, which was a lot closer than it looked like it would get. Riera beat everyone on one amazing play but the shot just clipped the post. We really are missing Bamba at this point with Hogg and Dickoh both playing poorly and Hogg "looking complacent". We had to battle a half hour of 90% passing from Olympiakos. A bit of a counter at the end of the half sees Nish waste a shot when the correct chip might have counted. I know it sounds negative to put it this way, but we have 45 minutes now not to concede two. An insurance goal was nearly in on a 50th minute corner, but cleared enthusiastically by the man on the post. Riera is wide open at the far post on a long diagonal cross and puts it in, but there was a reason... offside. Looked like the wrong call, actually... they had a player in an offside position, but he didn't get within 10 yards of "participating" and Riera looked on. Then Riera hits the crossbar on about the same speculative shot Riordan took earlier. We've got no direct answer for Riera, just have to hope one of these doesn't click. Hour mark... Riordan looked like he had an opening but the keeper fielded even after the deflection. Stuff looks dicey in the back for Olympiakos twice, but we can't get there to cash in. Horrid mistake by Dickoh going for a challenge as last man, Rommedahl has 45 yards to himself to beat the keeper, but incredibly he wastes the chance by putting it wide. Whew, what a let-off. Agogo, in for fresh legs and pace, squirts through, he similarly can't beat the keeper although his chance was much much tougher. 10 minutes to survive. Again, we've already spent our subs and there are extremely tired legs out there. Nish manages another booking urging his tired legs forward... if there's another match, he'll miss it. Currie, one of those fresh pairs of legs, pushes forward for a cross finding Nish in traffic, he gets a little on it, but it's aiming for the upper right so the keeper has to fly to deflect it over. Surely now... on a throw, Agogo loops a header, the keeper can't reach it but it bounces on top of the bar, stays in play wasting more time! Finally goes behind for a goal kick. Three minutes of regular time remain. Agogo through the middle, counter, gets it in his brain to shoot from distance, 35 yards at least. It almost goes, but I'm not thrilled, time wasting, maybe even better drawing a foul, was the order of the moment. Three minutes extra, which we open with a throw in. Control, lads! And suddenly, it's over! Agogo has controlled the throw with his chest, clipped to Galbraith, and I'm not sure how, Nish is through all alone on the keeper and he doesn't miss from eight yards! On replay, that wasn't so much a pass by Galbraith, but a ball squirting loose on a violent sliding tackle from Cearense, which for all he got some ball could easily have been a card. 90th minute. Currie flattens Rommedahl which was actually an improvement on letting him scoot past like he did in the first half (before Currie was in).
Score: 1-0 (Nish 90) Hibernian win 3-1 on aggregate.
Final Thoughts: The impossible dream continues... this one ended up pretty even on the stat sheet, Olympiakos maybe a slight edge, but they couldn't break through. We'll have to wait a couple of days to find our opponent, it's Getafe v Anderlecht on Thursday, with Getafe holding a 2-0 lead.

It's the final week to renew Zemmama's contract, and the two opinions that have been with the senior club the longest, Asst. Derek Adams and coach Gareth Evans, agree he hasn't done enough to warrant a new deal. He's had 10 starts, 11 subs, scored 3, 6 assists, 6.92 rating. It's complicated here; we have so many other midfielders, and I can't tie too many senior players to new deals because of this silly SPL rule about having three youth outfield players in the matchday 18 - I think it's a horrid rule because you have to leave some players out as they'd never get in matches, having to be left out of the matchday squad. Anyway, the issue is he's our most creative player, and on occasion I've been able to slot him in places where that's needed; indeed he's played his best football in the Euro Cup. He deserves a good club, hope someone has observed his performances in Europe and offers him a deal.

It would be a bit silly of me not to take the rare chance to scout our next European opponent, since our moved for TV match leaves us not playing Thursday. For those who wonder, Anderlecht no longer have Lukaku, as as he moved to Real Madrid in January for £19.25m. Anderlecht get the opener to make it interesting - one more and the tie is level but the second half is all Getafe and they sealed the win scoring from a corner before Juan Angel Albin scored a glorious breakaway goal; Getafe go through 4-1 on agg. We're the last Scottish club standing, Benfica knocked out Celtic despite a draw at Celtic park. We've got a ways to go, theirs was attended by 57,204 while we drew just under our maximum of 17,400. Getafe have had a good run in Europe, 8 wins and two draws, but we don't see them as impossibly superior to us; they've not had a great league season at all 5-11-8 for 26 points from 24 matches, good for 14th. Certainly we'll be underdogs again. The frustrating part is we've drawn Thursday-Tuesday again, and we'll have the League Cup final in between - v. Celtic - so we have the horrid schedule 10 March Getafe (leg 1), 13 March Celtic (league cup final), 15 March Getafe (leg 2). And in the week that follows that, we have Celtic on Saturday, Rangers on Wednesday. Double ouch! I'm seriously afraid that we'll be stretched beyond the breaking point by this.

Inverness were horrid to start the season, 2-1-9 from the first 12, but 8-3-5 since, well out of the drop zone, level on points with Kilmarnock and Motherwell for 7th, and with an outside chance at making the upper half for the split. We can't come close to going with our most favored XI, we've got Bamba not quite back from injury, McBride not quite ready after his period out; Miller, Hanlon, Galbraith, Wotherspoon, Hart and Nish deserving a rest. Riordan could go, but we're still wanting to blood the new strikers so he'll be on the bench. But... we're unbeaten at home and they're not so good away so we'll take the gamble despite their good form. We've got pesky (to us anyway) St Mirren away on Wednesday.

Match: Hibernian - Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Score: 1-0 (Agogo 37)
Final Thoughts: Here's a useless banner as we set up for the match: Hibernian hold their fate in their own hands, and know they will clinch the Premier League crown if they win their remaining matches. There are 13 matches left, we're not winning them all!!!! We tried to hit them early without success and it took until the 37th minute for either side to score - we got one on a messy play, Agogo about 30 yards out sees a lane opening for McRobbie, puts it there, but McRobbie, not on the same page, holds his run. You just have to make your run into that kind of space. But the defender's attempted clearance hits another defender and squirts goalwards, where Agogo was the only one awake to run through and finish, he's shown a real talent for dealing with awkward balls, this one he had to chest down to get a shot on. The second half is pretty even for a while, then I'm a bit frustrated we can't notch the second as on a break Agogo gets two cracks, McRobbie is near to another, and then Agogo heads a corner wide. A number of the players are getting sloppy as time passes. They're not remembering it's only 1-0, and it almost costs us as we allow a shot that clangs off the post. Sub Thicot's shot went close but won a corner, then another corner. We're still in danger the last 10... Nice passing sequence has de Graaf open right, but he settles for earning the corner instead of forcing in the cross. The right pass will spring Agogo now... McRobbie has delivered it, but Agogo puts the shot wide. There's enough control to see it out, we outshot them 22-8 but our shooting was not profitable, good enough but frustrating.

Rangers win; Sunday Celtic win; Monday Aberdeen lose badly at home to Hearts in a result that will hurt them.

I continue to be amazed by the string of results, indeed there's still this nagging fear that it's too much too early and we'll end up paying the price in the inflated expectations. There's a lot of green on the results sheet, overall that's now 10 wins in a row, and this is beyond anything I could have dreamed since it includes getting us into the 2nd knockout round of the Euro Cup (that's got benefits for next season - in addition to the 14 points our 7 main-stage wins earn, there's four extra as a bonus for reaching the round of 16. We were working with nine points for this season, the glob of extra points should have us somewhere much higher in the rankings, if we're in the group stages again we could even be pot 2 instead of pot 4, which should make life better for the draw (that is, if you're placed in pot 2 that's a pot 2 club you don't have to face!).

Monthly results:
Hibernian 3-1 East Fife (Scottish Cup 5th Rnd) (Currie 35, McRobbie 48, Agogo 81 - Sloan 59)
Hibernian 2-0 Kilmarnock (Riordan 29, Agogo 90+2)
Olympiakos 1-2 Hibernian (EURO Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Pantelic 53 - Riordan 21, Wotherspoon 30)
Hibernian 1-0 Olympiakos (EURO Cup 1st Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Nish 90) Hibernian win 3-1 on aggregate.
Hibernian 1-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Agogo 37)

Very nice; fortunate to play four of the five at home, but still getting five wins from five is as good as you can get, right?

End of Month table summary (28 pld except as noted):
1. Hibernian 59 (26 pld)
2. Celtic 58
3. Rangers 55 (27 pld)
4. Aberdeen 52
...
7. Motherwell 31 -9
8. St Mirren 31 -11
9. Kilmarnock 31 -12
10. Inverness CT 31 -13 (7-10 are all looking fairly safe)
11. Hamilton 21 -27
12. St Johnstone 21 -32

Team leaders:
Goals: Riordan 14, Nish 11, Bamba, Trakys, Wotherspoon 6
Assists: McBride, Nish 11, Galbraith 8
Passing: Miller 86%, Thicot 85%, Stevenson 83%, Murray 83%
Rating: Bamba 7.32, Hogg 7.15, McBride 7.13, Hard 7.12

Finances:
We made £228k, leaving the total + £2.74m for the year.
March 2011

Match: St Mirren - Hibernian
Score: 2-1 (Thicot 2, 80 - Cregg 12)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Corner leads to quick early goal, Dickoh headed it but it was Thicot who got the final head on it, 2nd minute. St Mirren are sloppy and it's a second in the 10th from Nish... wait, no it isn't, that's a horrible call, he was onside by two yards. The replay showed the lines on the field - seriously, two yards onside. And of course St Mirren immediately score, so refereeing incompetence has turned a comfortable lead into what's going to be another nail-biter with St Mirren. And so it goes; Agogo, on for the ineffective Nish fairly early creates opening after opening, but there's no finish, and the other players shoot wide. Approaching the 80th minute it's 14 shots, three on frame - until our 7th corner is headed in by Thicot for his second goal. A frustrated Potter hacks down Agogo and it's a red card; and we're able to see it out, although not without a few additional nervous moments. We dominated in the air, that was the difference; they won 50% of attempted headers, we were 75% and scored both goals off corners in the air.

Match: Hibernian - Partick Thistle (Scottish Cup Quarter Final)
Score: 2-0 (Rankin 37, Murray 74)
Final Thoughts: It seems we've got the usual problem of complacency against a lower team early; eventually we do start to take control with a lot of passing and Agogo does a very nice job of setting up Ranking who scores cleanly. Murray got his first of the season later, on a header. We did in the end have 60% of the ball, so you'd have to say we earned it.

We're into the Scottish Cup semifinal, so we've basically hit all of our targets for the season now: way exceeded "learn from the experience" in Euro Cup, we're "competing alongside the top teams" in the SPL, and we've made the semi final of the Scottish Cup and League Cup (in the latter we're into the final).

The other winners are Dundee United and Rangers; Hearts and Motherwell play to a draw so need to go to a replay. The winner of that one will play Rangers, we'll get Dundee United, a match that will take place 23 April.

Colin Nish is just a frustrating player; in the midst of my moaning about missed - and often not just missed but spectacularly wasted - opportunities he's the second leading scorer and leading assist maker. He's as likely to score two as to have a 6.0-rated performance. And, of course, to pick up a needless card. No idea what our contract-time decision will be.

Meanwhile, I've had another look at "confidence" and while the fans seem pleased enough in Douglas, Agogo, and McRobbie acquisitions, they reserve their greatest happiness for Zemmama's departure ("After Zemmama's performance of late, the fans are happy to see the player leave the club") - which I think is very harsh, because he played pretty well. On another front, we had another look at the French midfielder/forward Dominique Malonga, and unlike earlier in the season, when he would have had no interest at all in joining us, now he would be extremely interested in joining the club. Funny how just a little success changes perceptions. He's really cheap as far as the transfer goes, but we'd have a big salary problem compared to Italy where he's playing now, so I think still a nogo.

Match: Getafe - Hibernian (EURO Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 1)
Score: 6-3 (Albin 28, 42, 51, Rios 34, 84, Parejo 39 - Agogo 7, 22, Galbraith 86)
Final Thoughts: We consider the situation and decide on a surprise - we'll go all out attacking for a bit to start and see what it gets us. And it does seem to surprise Getafe, we got an early goal, then a second, both from Agogo. Not that Getafe didn't have chances too. But when I settle things down a bit, they scored right away, Albin, following an excellent save by Brown where unfortunately all he could do is push away. We've put Miller through absolutely all alone, but he can't protect the ball enough to score, not being a forward. And it's level on 34 minutes, Pedro Rios on the back post on the back post on a play he looked to be miles offside on, but no flag. And then it's 3-2 Getafe on a free kick headed in, we've just collapsed completely. And then 4-2 when Albin scores again, again clearly miles offside. We're getting no help at all when it's hard enough as it is. Six first-half goals? What's going on here? Albin's hat trick comes on 51. We've had a goal from Stevenson ruled out when he was clearly onside when the pass was made, and a three-goal difference in the match is due to refereeing mistakes. There's one more for Getafe before Galbraith pulls one back. We've had two golden chances in stoppage to make it closer and blown them both, so we do deserve this loss, but there's no way this should have been a three-goal margin.

Match: Hibernian - Celtic (League Cup Final - Hampden Park, Glasgow)
Score: 3-2 (Bamba 17, Douglas 71, 84 - Hooper 48, Majstorovic 58)
Final Thoughts: Tough to play in Glasgow for a neutral match v. a Glasgow club, but at least it's not in their home park. And I'll say in front, it's somewhat of an amazing match, a final that I hope will be considered a bit of a classic. Bamba opens the scoring as he runs onto an angled free kick from far out right, bad mistake to let him through on set plays. There's largely the same play the other way on 25, but Samaras doesn't really get all of his header and Brown manages to get over to get a few fingertips on it. After Brown kicks out a long shot, there are a couple of weak Celtic chances, then an apparent goal by Maloney is waved off. As far as I can tell, that was wrong; there's a pass that's made (but not to him) where he's clearly off, and the further pass to him he's on, so it rests on the dubious "coming back from an offside position", where was he off and when did he get back. Cha Du-Ri has an opening from the right but puts it wide. It was an eventful first half for 1-0. Celtic threaten early then score on a second major foray. 1-1 in the 49th. Ascendant Celtic take the lead 10 minutes later, Majstorovic despite being in a crowd heads it solidly in for 1-2. We have some trouble getting back into things, but then Douglas gets the goal back as he nails a free kick, level again in the 71st. Samaras is loose, but recovering pressure makes him muff the shot. Then Riordan blasts from outside the box, it's blocked but Douglas comes out of the pack and rams in the rebound from nine yards, 3-2 late in the match. It's enough for the win.

We've won some domestic silverware!!! It's not been incredibly long since one of this level, we'd won the League Cup three other times, in 2007, 1992 and 1973. The other two titles, though... the league not since 1952, nearly 60 years ago, and the Scottish Cup has been won only twice, in 1902 and 1887, so it's already been over 100 years for that one. Can we end those runs this year? Sometime in the near future? Having raised expectations with this season, I don't suspect I'll be given an endless amount of time, but at least I don't have neighboring Hearts' "Vlad the Impaler" for an owner, some patience can be expected.

Match: Hibernian - Getafe (EURO Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 2)
Score: 1-3 (Agogo 72 - del Moral 9, Casquero 14, Colunga 55) Getafe win 9-4 on aggregate
Final Thoughts: Whatever magic we had in the Cup either didn't work against Getafe or we just ran out of it. We don't show any composure until after the 20th minute, by then it's 0-2. Composure is only a relative term, we did work for two opportunities which we'd had none of before, but the two shots are not composed and well, well wide. Once again my back line was unable to cope with Getafe's skill and all four of them were having horror matches. Then as a shock Agogo is completely free through, and to compound the injury he half-rounds the keeper but puts the shot wide. I understand being beaten by a better side, I expected that to happen months ago, but this showing is an embarrassment, and I let them know. In the 55th minute Rankin gets a chance in traffic, at least he hits the keeper with it instead of putting it way off frame. It's our first officially on target shot of the match. Seconds later it's 3-0. Agogo scores in the 72nd, I'm not sure how that was onside but he's put an exclamation point on a performance where he had so far looked the only player able to keep up with Getafe. Although if he'd put his earlier chance in who knows... We don't really have anything to lose at this point, so might as well push even harder. Agogo's loose, and puts another one wide. What could have been... still a loss, I guess, but a much more respectable aggregate score. Perhaps it makes no difference how you go out if you go out. We have a lot to be proud of, we've way overachieved in the competition, and our overall 31 goals are just one behind current leader although probably we'll slip further down as the competition goes on.

There's still a lot to go in our tough run, but at least it's in the league where we've shown we're able to compete with anyone if the situation is good (whether or not that's the case this time we'll see in how fast the top players recover). We've got Celtic away, Rangers home, a theoretically easier match in St Johnstone away, Hearts home, Aberdeen away - that is, four of the other five members of the top six. Then after facing Hamilton at home we'll do it all again - we're have the split and face all five of our fellow top-six members. Along the way, we'll also have a Scottish Cup semifinal, so there's very little breathing room the rest of the way...

After the draws for the European competitions, the ECC will see Roma v Barcelona, Inter v Bayern, Dynamo Kyiv v Man United, Valencia v. Lyon; the Euro Cup is Man City v Benfica, Palermo v Getafe, Dortmund v Juventus, Sampdoria v Atletico Madrid (holders).

Match: Celtic - Hibernian
Score: 1-1 (Wotherspoon 34, Samaras 42)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: Before we start this one with Celtic, I get a more realistic reminder on prospects: 26 points ensure us the title. That's better than saying "if we win all the rest", but not that much, with 11 matches left it allows us to drop six points, but that assumes Celtic win all nine of their remaining outings, which includes two with us (meaning they could consume the six points we can afford all by themselves). Can't think that far ahead; I have to prepare for the chance we lose this one and not let that deflate the club - we'd drop behind them, but still have two in hand to try to regain the lead. I know it's going to be hard if we don't win the title, but even that won't be a failed season, I think we've already had a successful season and there's a chance to make it better. We played them even for the first few, then a chance looked to be developing as Galbraith got through; he was offside, and blew the chance anyway - just as well as the offside looked wrong, now we don't have to feel aggrieved. After a quarter of the match, the Hoops dominate the statistics, I still call if even but we're going to have to pass much better if we're going to threaten them. 30+ minutes in, it's been a superb performance by the back line, who were so outclassed against Getafe, but nobody else is putting in a shift - and all of a sudden out of nowhere we've scored, just to show how confusing a game football really is. Agogo makes a run down the left pretty much all by himself, holds it up just a little and finds Riordan in the middle, he's forward enough to attract one of the defenders at which point he dumps it to the right in the path of Wotherspoon who runs until 20 yards out where he shoots before the other defender can close, and it goes in on the far side. Wrong defensive choice to step up where Riordan was not yet a threat, but Wotherspoon still had to convert and did so brilliantly. As I'm starting to hope for a brilliant result, Douglas misjudges a corner and it's let Samaras, whom we're held completely quiet until now, sneak over for the goal. 1-1 at the break after Riordan's chip finds neither the goal nor Agogo at the very end. The problem is, after early decent play we've fallen off, and based on overall first-half play there are five players who should come off for substitutes to try to improve things. So I can't really do anything. Subs happen when Hogg - who wasn't one of the five, naturally, has to come out injured, I pull the dismal performer Miller out at the same time. This is hang on exercise, and it looks like we're doing just enough, we've controlled nearly all of stoppage, and we've earned the draw! Outshot by a big margin (26-10), out-possessed (60/40), we've defended well enough to score what I'm trying to convince the side is pretty much a win... we've split the points in a "six pointer" away at pretty much our only remaining competition. We're still a point ahead of Celtic, still with two games in hand. The fans have gotten to unreasonable expectations, they're disappointed. Unfortunately, Hogg's hamstring injury will keep him out a month. Sunday brings an Aberdeen-Rangers match, could have helped us out but Aberdeen are not strong enough to avoid defeat at home.

Hmm, interesting note, relegation-threatened Chievo in Italy have sacked their boss and I'm considered a candidate by the press. This seems pretty dubious, but the press can make rumors everywhere.

Oops, now we're got a bit of a problem, Francis Dickoh has been called up for Ghana for a Nations Cup qualifier, don't want these to start impacting things - joins Bama (who would be a loss) and Koroma (who can lose time without it hurting us).

Match: Hibernian - Rangers
Score: 1-0 (Bamba 36)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: It was almost a great start, as Welch put in a long deep cross which is on the foot of Douglas far post, but the keeper recovers to make the save. Kenny Miller's turn at midfield leaves him all alone to go in on the keeper, as we messed up the back line depth; he can't beat Brown, similarly disappointing, so one wasted chance and one let off for each, all inside two minutes! Miller and Douglas each have a chance later, the latter drawing a fine diving save on a promising free kick. It's Miller once more in the 32nd, again Brown denies him, and we get a goal on our third real chance, Bamba coming in on the diagonal free kick to head home, 36th. The early second half opportunities are ours, then it's a battle to hold of Rangers for the final 30 minutes as they end up controlling possession, but we do it, for an excellent win.

As we approach the final portion of the season, there are nine matches left in our league schedule - four before the split, then we'll just see what hand we're dealt with the final five. If Celtic don't drop points, 20 will get us the title - in a system not as confusing as Scotland's you'd start thinking it's something to dream about, but but with the split, we'll finish off with the five top clubs (besides ourselves), so it's still going to be quite a fight. If it works out in a balanced way as the League promises, we'll have Celtic and Aberdeen home, Rangers away from that batch of five.

Match: St Johnstone - Hibernian
Score: 2-5 (Millar 62, 65 - Riordan 1, 30, Dickoh 9, Agogo 32, Koroma 83)
League Position: 1st
Final Thoughts: After a lot of action Riordan's put in a first-minute goal. It's off the bottom of the crossbar but in. We've got another one from a corner that's gone off the underneath of the bar, but this one is not in, but eventually Dickoh gets enough control to bang it home from close, 9th. Riordan pots his second on 30, we haven't really dominated but the plan to keep width so they can't pack the box seems to have worked, and we're lucky to lead by three. We're still finding gaps an Agogo shows great patience to score our 4th on a break. Almost a great goal for us as the 2nd opens, but it's off the bar. St Johnstone pull one back on 62, and it looked easy, we're getting sloppy or tired or both. Millar gets a second on a nice, and difficult, shot from the right; that's a brace in less than four minutes, and I'm less than thrilled, shall we say? Koroma, who hasn't played for ages, works a nice give and go with Riordan, but then puts his shot wide. When he does score, it's waved off. Brown has to save two good chances for St Johnstone. Then some amazing stuff between Murray and Koroma and Koroma has his goal, and it's 5-2. I hadn't been too happy with Miller's play so on a whim, put Rankin in instead, and he had a superb match, completely bossed the midfield and managed an 8.8 rating without benefit of a goal. That deserves another start, I guess. So we're caught up on games in hand, and now have a nice looking lead!

So a fine month domestically, three wins and an away point at Celtic in the league, qualifying for the Scottish Cup semi final, and winning the League Cup; this is tempered by being outclassed in both legs of the Euro Cup, we do try to say we were on borrowed time and beyond expectations in that competition anyway but how can it not hurt to get thrashed for nine goals over the tie in going out?

Monthly scores:
St Mirren 2-1 Hibernian (Thicot 2, 80 - Cregg 12)
Hibernian 2-0 Partick Thistle (Scottish Cup Quarter Final) (Rankin 37, Murray 74)
Getafe 6-3 Hibernian (EURO Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 1) (Albin 28, 42, 51, Rios 34, 84, Parejo 39 - Agogo 7, 22, Galbraith 86)
Hibernian 3-2 Celtic (League Cup Final) (Bamba 17, Douglas 71, 84 - Hooper 49, Majstorovic 58)
Hibernian 1-3 Getafe (EURO Cup 2nd Knockout Rnd Leg 2) (Agogo 72 - del Moral 9, Casquero 14, Colunga 55) Getafe win 9-4 on aggregate
Celtic 1-1 Hibernian (Wotherspoon 34, Samaras 42)
Hibernian 1-0 Rangers (Bamba 36)
St Johnstone 2-5 Hibernian (Millar 62, 65 - Riordan 1, 30, Dickoh 9, Agogo 32, Koroma 83)

End of month table summary (30 played):
1. Hibernian 69
2. Celtic 62
3. Rangers 58
4. Aberdeen 55
5. Hearts 47
6. Dundee United 43
...
11. Hamilton 24
12. St Johnstone 21

Below us, battling for promotion, 31 played:
1. Falkirk 66
2. Patrick Thistle 63
3. Greenock Morton 53

Elsewhere in Europe:
EPL (30 pld): 1. Liverpool 67; 2. Man Utd 58; 3. Arsenal 53; 3. Chelsea 51
Spain (29 pld): 1. Barcelona 66; 2. Real Madrid 62; 3. Sevilla 56; 4. At. Madrid 55
Italy (30 pld): 1. AC Milan 61; 2. Napoli 59; 3. Roma 58; 4. Palermo 55 +26; 5. Juventus 55 +15
Germany (27 pld): 1. Schalke 53; 2. Bayern 49; 3. Dortmund 47 +12 44gf; 4. Leverkusen 47, +12 38gf
Portugal (23 pld): 1. Porto 51; 2. Maritimo 48 +19; 3. Sporting 48 +15; 4. Benfica 42

We've drawn 53,000, 53,000 and 57,000 the three times we've played Celtic in Glasgow (including the League Cup); 47,000 when we visited Rangers. Wouldn't it be nice to have the stadium capacity to draw like that at home?

Finances
We took in £1.87m helped by prize money from the Euro cup and four home dates (up from £1.23m turnover last month) and spent £1.3m (up from £1m). Cash balance hovers just under £6m.
April 2011

We enter April with eight matches to go, knowing 17 points will clinch the title. As we play our local rival Hearts, we already know Rangers and Celtic have won to keep the pressure on - as if our poor performances against Hearts so far this year haven't already put pressure on. It's a match where I'm not happy to be without Bamba, Dickoh and Koroma on African Nations Qualifiers duty, and Hogg injured.

Match: Hibernian - Hearts
Score: 1-0 (Rankin 86)
League Position: 1st
Summary: It's another war with Hearts, this one seemingly with an extra man on the visitors side: the referee somehow saw cause to show us NINE yellow cards, and whistle almost three times as many fouls on us. We've played 30 matches averaging less then 1.5 cards per, and we didn't play any more roughly than usual, in fact we were being cautious because he has a record we were aware of. This was just insane. Already thin at the back, we lost Thicot to injury very early, then his replacement Murray, who dropped back from midfield, became the man to draw a second yellow, it pretty much had to happen to someone. Hearts lost a man to injury minutes later, and each a man down there was enough space on the field for Agogo to get loose, then cut the ball back where the sliding finish by Rankin was enough for the winner, and our first goal v. Hearts this season after 265 scoreless minutes. Thicot is expected out for four weeks. I know I said we knew about this referee, but even his past performances didn't support this kind of madness, for the rest of the season he's been just under four cards per match, and he showed twelve total in this one; and he's normally highly rated (7.61 otherwise) - the outside observers who rate referee performance give him a 4 for this one (of course the league isn't going to tell us how they rated him that's confidential).

Match: Aberdeen - Hibernian
Score: 0-1 (Agogo 10)
League Position: 1st
Summary: The Aberdeen battle is intense, we got a fairly early goal from Agogo and played a good first half. Aberdeen came on big time in the 2nd, we're more and more hanging on, eventually the substitutions and tactical changes are supporting a play for the 1-0 win or a draw, which is secured only because Aberdeen can't take their several golden chances. Agogo could have clinched it as once again he's made a breakaway but can't score it. This one was anything but convincing, yet it's a vital three points. We're outshot 15-8, and out-possessed 53/47 - and that's after having the advantage the other way 45/55 after the first half. Bamba, back from Africa, is again a rock in the center, I really hope our plans are sufficient to replace him. Players are clearly getting worn down this late in the season, I'm seeing substandard performance from several now. No help from the rest of the pack, Celtic and Rangers win again.

So two consecutive grueling battles, we've come top 1-0 both times. It really is becoming hard not to dream just a bit of the title now, and it works out we're a different side since Junior Agogo arrived - he gives a threat of a completely different sort than we had before, at any moment he's liable to end up completely free, nobody else has really presented that kind of breakout threat. He doesn't score them all - I of course wish he would! But he's potted 8 goals in 11 starts and 4 sub appearances, the impact is undeniable. And it helps Riordan, takes some of the pressure off him (although Riordan was poor this last time out). I'm still nervous of the crunch time battle after the split, but if we can prevail in our now crucial pre-split finale at home to Hamilton Accies we'd be in a position where we win the title with eight points (or less with outside help) from those final five. A win over Hamilton guarantees European football for next season, but of course at this stage we want more than just a very early qualifying round entry.

So far, the magic that has pervaded the senior squad does not extend to the rest of the club; it's been hard to get matches for the reserves but for the ones we've gotten (they don't really have a full "squad" anyway) they've been 0-1-7 - yes these are fitness-first matches, but still you like to see us more competitive. The U19's had a good spell in the middle of the season but now they're back winless in six, 8th place with a 7-3-10 record (two remaining). I go watch the lads in their next-to-last match and they did show a bit of quality.

The European cup competitions proceed, the ECC semi finals will be Inter v Olympique Lyonnais and Man United v Barcelona. The Euro Cup semis will be Atletico Madrid v Man City and Palermo v Dortmund.

Match: Hibernian - Hamilton Academical
Score: 1-0 (Rankin 30)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We played okay at the start, by the half hour we looked like we were taking control, and it's that man Rankin again who scores, I can't take him out of the lineup. Cerny's good play in the Hamilton goal kept out two others in a 1-0 half. 65 minutes in and I'm irritated over the inability to make anything happen - shots listed as 19-1 but we've created very little danger except the corner-initiated scramble that Rankin scored off. Agogo in to stir the pot. And almost immediately he's loose, doesn't push for the shot, instead wins our 7th corner. We're running them all over, this is the kind of play I'd like to see if we were a man up. Agogo gets just a slip of an opening and his shot clangs back off the post. We've left this one way too close, the Accies just miss a shot and have a penalty shout turned down. Agogo makes a great run and gets a shot where it looked there was nothing, and from the corner we run out the clock, although, again, we should have scored. Wotherspoon utterly wasteful on the last kick. It's a win, but I just can't bring myself to say too much good given our inability to cash in. Yes, Celtic and Rangers win, again.

So here's the situation at the split, 33 games in:
Championship Group: 1. Hibernian 78, 2. Celtic 71, 3. Rangers 67, 4. Aberdeen 58, 5. Hearts 53, 6. Dundee United 47
Relegation Group: 7. Kilmarnock 38, 8. St Mirren 37, 9. Motherwell 35, 10. Inverness 34, 11. Hamilton 27, 12. St Johnstone 21

For the championship group, this is what remains (contenders highlighted)
April 19: Hibernian v Rangers, Celtic v Dundee, Aberdeen v Hearts
April 27: Dundee v Hibernian, Hearts v Celtic, Rangers v Aberdeen
April 30: Aberdeen v Celtic, Hibernian v Hearts, Rangers v Dundee
May 7: Celtic v Hibernian, Dundee v Aberdeen, Hearts v Rangers
May 15: Dundee v Hearts, Hibernian v Aberdeen, Rangers v Celtic

Is there enough in our tank to hold off Celtic? Will we get some help? One scenario is if we're still in a good position in the last round, maybe Rangers knock off Celtic for us? Aberdeen was very tough early but they seem to have really fallen off recently so I don't think we can expect a lot of help there, just as long as they don't wake up vs us. There's a path where we could get enough points without taking any off Rangers or Celtic, winning the other three is actually enough, but I don't want to count on it. We'll get a difficult test right away in Rangers.

Match: Hibernian - Rangers (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-1 (Rankin 62, Eagles 9)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We played rather well the first half, but this time there was no special bit of magic or luck, while Rangers got a goal on Eagles sliding poke on a long free kick. Typically of our performance, Agogo creates something but a Rangers defender just gets the barest touch in front of Riordan. Approaching the hour, Agogo with a hesitation move has gotten off a powerful shot in a 1v3, really almost 1v5, but keeper McGregor snares it. From nowhere - or at least from very long distance, Rankin has found our equalizer, long shot clipping in off the far post. Half-chances keep coming, in the final 30 minutes we were far the more dangerous side, but ends a draw. Celtic charging hard, the only points they've dropped in the last seven are in the 1-1 draw with us, but we were on an even better run - two points dropped in twelve, until this one. So the lead is five points, four matches to go. Our recent problems scoring have led to us falling behind Celtic in goal difference, which is a bit of a worry. Rankin, meanwhile was superb again, it wasn't just the goal, he picked his spot it seemed innumerable times to break up a Rangers foray and usually was able to start one the other way.

So we've got contributions coming from two players who've not played much over the full season. Agogo was the January transfer, as noted before he's made an impact by being more dynamic than the other players. Rankin had some early injury problems, and never made any real case for being in the first XI, but now in crunch time he's not letting me keep him out. He's scored 7 goals in only 15 appearances, but the revelation is he's played the last five consecutively and done an astonishing 7.84 average... I'm asking myself if we're failing to see something in training that shows up on matchday, or if it's just "one of those things", a brief spell of great form that's well above what we could expect over the long term.

We've still got to split our attentions a bit as we're still in the Scottish Cup. We actually get Dundee twice; once on the big stage, Hampden Park in Glasgow, then a few days later on Tayside in the league.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian (Scottish Cup Semi Final, Hampden Park Glasgow)
Score: 1-0 (Gomis 51)
Summary: A largely substitute lineup should be better than Dundee "on paper", but not by much. In the first half; we're helped by some amazing incompetence on their part as far as finishing. Dundee have opened the scoring from Morgaro Gomis, on a shot that should have been stopped I think, 51st. The rest of the way, we could do nothing useful, and I end up very very unhappy at the fact that a great chance to make the final in a competition we haven't won in 108 years has just been pissed away by apathy - and that from players who should be eager to show what they're worth, several fighting for new contracts. I'm really really worried that we've only scored four in the last five matches.

Match: Dundee United - Hibernian (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 3-0 (Daly 3, 55, Dow 90+1)
League Position: 1st
Summary: We MUST win this one, and we've started out looking even worse than last time, while playing a more favored XI. Dundee are up 1-0 inside 3 minutes. We've had a worryingly bad run of performances from a number of what would be considered key players - every striker, the three wingers who make up the two positions, and some of the defenders as well. And of course there's no luck either, like Agogo's promising bending shot going wide. We got really lucky it's not 2-0, a shot is missed by Brown, hits the bar, bounces down, and he somehow collects. Nothing works; even when we've got a chance to win a ball and our player gets clattered, the foul is somehow on us. It didn't help to yell at the squad after the last match, either. To open the second, the level of disaster rises, Agogo scores cleanly but unfairly it's ruled out. And then Dundee lead 2-0. What in the world has gone wrong with the unbeatable club we've been? We look like a relegation candidate!!! Daly looked like he'd scored his third, but it was waved off on a dubious offside. There is a third goal late, we've covered ourselves in shame in this one. This is a loss that has probably cost us the title. Or would have... except we find out Celtic get skunked even worse by Hearts, 4-0, so some hope comes back.

Match: Hibernian - Hearts (SPL Championship Group)
Score: 1-0 (Douglas 86)
League Position: 1st (winner)
Summary: The players are really fired up but there's no end product in the first half, and indeed we're lucky not to trail after a Hearts break in the first minute saw a shot go just wide. A brilliant squad has turned absolutely useless in front of goal - really we're not even getting in front of goal. Agogo looks like he may make a break very late in the match, and he's taken down to prevent that. The Douglas free kick may be our last chance to salvage the three points... and it's in!!! 86th minute, the ball was deflected on the way through, is why it beat the keeper. Is that enough? It's insane in our box in the final minute but it is enough. And that one little bit, our first goal in three matches, and only our second v. Hearts in four matches on the season, proves to be the title winner! Celtic have stumbled to a draw in Aberdeen, and the half-century wait for a Hibernian title is over! Sometimes this game is such a roller-coaster: the horrible performance v. Dundee looking like we've lost our chance, then we come off the field to hear Celtic had laid just as big an egg; then the next match we can't do a thing until we've scored on a very very late free kick that took a fortunate deflection... from near despair to ultimate joy on such narrow margins...

It was a gritty month, shall we say; we lost our scoring touch, yet battled for enough to get the four wins that gave us the big prize. We've scored only five goals from the seven matches - yet they were all utterly crucial as each one guaranteed a result - 13 points in total. We've fallen out of the the Scottish Cup. Again. My first try, but a long history for the club.

Monthly results:
Hibernian 1-0 Hearts (Rankin 86)
Aberdeen 0-1 Hibernian (Agogo 10)
Hibernian 1-0 Hamilton Academical (Rankin 30)
Hibernian 1-1 Rangers (SPL Championship Group) (Rankin 62, Eagles 9)
Dundee United 1-0 Hibernian (Scottish Cup Semi Final, Hampden Park Glasgow) (Gomis 51)
Dundee United 3-0 Hibernian (SPL Championship Group) (Daly 3, 55, Dow 90+1)
Hibernian 1-0 Hearts (SPL Championship Group) (Douglas 86)

End of month table summary (36 played)
1. Hibernian 82 (winner)
2. Celtic 75
3. Rangers 74
4. Aberdeen 62
...
11. Hamilton 30 (relegation playoff)
12. St Johnstone (relegated)

From the First Division, Falkirk are promoted.

Finances:
A small loss for the month still leaves us well in the black for the season (£3.3m) and we've still got prize money for winning the league coming.

You are reading "Hibernian Hopes".

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