Top line summary:

  • No decisions made on out-of-contract players
  • No timeframe for Jake Doyle-Hayes return 
  • Josh Campbell progressing well; Paul Hanlon fit again after illness 
  • Looking forward to going up against Neil Warnock

Hibs boss Nick Montgomery spoke to the media ahead of Saturday's cinch Premiership match against Aberdeen at Pittodrie - here's all the head coach had to say... 

Did you watch the Aberdeen game in midweek?

“I watched it, yeah. They had to dig themselves out of a hole. They showed good fight in the second half. It’s always tricky going three down early in the game but they showed good character. They have got a good squad so they made changes and they were probably unlucky not to win it."

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Is it good for you that Aberdeen had a big task while Hibs had a break?

“We’ve had plenty of weeks where we have had multiple games. It was 90 minutes plus injury time, and they’ve had a couple of days to get ready. They built a squad to cope with European football so there is a lot of strength in depth. I don’t see it being an issue for them."

Hibs and Aberdeen are level on points, goal difference etc. Is this a big game?

“The biggest game is the next one and for us, it’s Aberdeen this weekend. From now on every game is a big one."

Will it be strange going up against Neil Warnock?

“It will be a little strange. Neil gave me my debut as a 17-year-old at Sheffield United. You can do the maths but it’s been a long time and I’m sure it will be an experience being on the sidelines with him, but in the opposing dugout. It will probably be the first time I have seen him face-to-face in over ten years."

There must be a few stories you could tell...

“Most of them have been well documented but the bowling one is the one that stands out. I remember that first hand. It was a day when there was heavy snow or waterlogged pitches so we cancelled training and decided to go bowling instead. No one had any idea the gaffer had been a professional bowler in a past life! Everyone chucked in £20 and he was more than happy to clean up at the end.

“It was funny being there. That’s the sort of stuff Neil did. There are so many stories like that. It just shows you underestimate him at anything at your peril. He has definitely mellowed compared to how he used to be. He’s retired six times and I’ve sent him six ‘enjoy your retirement’ messages - then six more ‘welcome back’ messages. I’ll probably avoid that in the future!"

What did you take from him into your own coaching career?

"People go on about his man-management and he’s the sort of manager who, if he likes you, you get on with him and if he doesn’t, you don’t last long at the club. That’s a pattern throughout his career. But he was always honest and I have certainly taken parts of working with him into my own career. He has changed, he’s not as colourful with referees as he used to be and maybe he doesn’t shout as much anymore. But he’s done really well and had a fantastic career as a manager."

He still has a bit of fire in the belly, are you prepared for this reunion?

"I don’t know what you’ve seen but you’ve not seen some of his dressing-room stuff in the early days! He’s passionate, he loves winning and having a team that will fight for him.  I’m not sure what will happen on Saturday but I’m passionate, he’s passionate and it’s two teams wanting to win a game of football. No matter what we will be shaking hands before and after the game."

Were you there for the 'you've got to die for three points' speech?

"Yeah, I was in the dressing room that day and most of the clips that are on YouTube! Once you step on that pitch it’s a battle, not a war, but two teams competing to win a game. Everyone has different ways of motivating but he just meant you have to give everything to win a game and it’s a message I try to give the players every game."

Is the squad now stronger than it's ever been since you took charge?

“For sure. It’s been well documented but we really did get hit by the international window with two boys in the Asian Cup and two in the Africa Cup of Nations. We’ve had a long injury list as well. I look at the squad now and it’s probably the first time I’ve had to leave someone off the bench. It’s a headache you want as a manager. Picking your team you want your best players available and a strong bench.

“When I look at the past six or seven-week period we lost a lot of players. That’s nothing I can control but there were a lot of young players who made their debuts in that period. Rory Whittaker and Rudi Molotnikov were both playing for Scotland under-19s this week. Some players have had real experiences that will help them going forward. I want to be a manager who gives opportunities to young players.

“We’re at the tail-end of the season now and it’s nice to have players back from injury. Chris Cadden is just coming back now; a few need a couple of weeks to get up to fitness. There’s a couple still on the injury table, Jake Doyle-Hayes and Josh Campbell.

“Rocky Bushiri came back on Wednesday but he’s not played one minute for the last eight weeks so the challenge is to get him back up to speed as quickly as possible and integrate him with the new players that have come in. But right now we are in a really strong place moving forward."

Is Paul Hanlon over his illness?

“Yes, Paul’s been training - he just went through a period in which he was up and down with illness but he’s back in training now. Apart from Josh Campbell and Jake Doyle-Hayes, everybody else is in training. Josh is a couple of weeks away still but he’s out of his air boot and it’s looking like he’ll be back in training within a couple of weeks which is another positive.”

Is Josh ahead of schedule then?

“I think so - we expected it to be a little bit longer but it was a case of taking the boot off and getting him moving around and he seems to be progressing really quickly. He’s someone else who was starting week in, week out so it will be good to have him back at some point in the next two weeks or so.”

Is there a timeframe yet for Jake Doyle-Hayes' return?

“Not really. It’s been a really difficult one for him, really frustrating. He’s been back in training but, yeah, just really frustrating. I can’t really put a timescale on when he’ll be back but we’re hoping it could be within the next month. But that’s a bit of a guess.”

Tell us about your personal relationship with Adam Le Fondre?

“I’ve known Alfie for a long time. When I came into the club he was suffering from an injury and he was never really fit, and then he was ruled out for three months. He’s back fit now, he’s a natural goalscorer, and there have been a lot of games this season where we’ve had a lot of possession and a lot of opportunities and not managed to score when we were on top in games.

“He’s the sort of player who’s always in the box, always sniffing around; a very instinctive striker. We went through a long period without a lot of options in the attacking third so it’s great to have him back, and his experience. He’s a player who can create an opportunity for himself or score in any game because he’s done it throughout his career. I try to have a good and honest relationship with all the players and I’m just glad to have him back.”

How useful can he be for the younger forwards in the team?

“His experience is really good and his movement - you look at a striker’s movement and he’s always peeling off the shoulder of the defender, he’s always anticipating a mistake in the box or the ‘keeper might spill the ball. That’s something he’s always talking to the young boys about; he spends a lot of time with Dylan Vente and Josh Landers and it’s good to have a player like that who’s scored goals throughout his career at every level.

“He’s always willing to pass on information but it’s just nice to have him back on the pitch because there was a long period where he was on the injury list.”

Has a decision been made on Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson’s contract?

“No, we haven’t made any decisions on some players who are out of contract at the end of the season. The reality is that some players are playing for a new deal, and that’s something that we’ll probably address in the near future, but nothing’s changed since January. Those conversations will ultimately be had at some point in the next couple of months.”