By the end, it felt like mercy for Nick Montgomery.

The tide had turned so far against the now-departed Hibs manager that it became impossible to see a way back that wasn't plucked from the realms of pure fantasy. When his beleaguered players retreated for the shelter of the dressing room two goals down to Aberdeen on Sunday, there was a sense that the 45 minutes to follow were now of existential importance to his position.

Losing heavily to Aberdeen at home is one thing, but losing to a flaky Aberdeen side on their third manager of the season, permanent or otherwise, was about as sure a sign as any that Hibs had found themselves back on the road to nowhere, and for the second week running Montgomery has found himself departing the pitch to a relentless torrent of boos. His post-match assertion that the club were on an 'upward trajectory' provoked everything from unbridled anger to merciless ridicule, and gave the impression of a man clutching at straws to justify his position.

READ MORE: Inside Montgomery's Hibs exit as club makes 'necessary' call

Managers will defend themselves to the very end, but when they do so with statements so at odds with reality, it's a telltale sign that the walls are closing in. Perhaps the final straw for the Hibs hierarchy was a glimpse into a future that was becoming ever more likely with each passing result; the sight of an already sparse Easter Road dwindling into near-emptiness as Montgomery's tenure hit its nadir with barely anyone left to see it.

Apathy has been the word most used in fan circles of late, and in some ways it is more dangerous to a football club than anger. Furious fans, difficult to placate but still fuelled by passion, are more likely to continue turning up on a Saturday than those who just don’t care anymore. That’s where a not-insignificant number of Hibs supporters have seemingly found themselves, voting with their feet in such numbers – before and during the game – that it sent a message that cannot have been ignored in the director’s box.

That apathy made the decision to part ways with Montgomery all the more likely, albeit it is one that should have repercussions for those continuing to make the big calls at Easter Road. His departure marks the fourth manager since 2021 to be unceremoniously emptied at Hibs, and not the first to fail to see out a single season. It was, of course, a risk to appoint a man who, despite his success in Australia, was still relatively inexperienced. But it would be unhelpful revisionism to say that there was not a considerable degree of optimism surrounding Montgomery’s arrival. Here was a young, forward-thinking coach, seemingly on an upward trajectory, who had taken the A-League’s lowest-budget team and turned them into champions.

There’s always risk in such appointments, as coaches at the career stage Montgomery was when Hibs hired him are generally only one more successful job from moving beyond places like Easter Road on the footballing ladder. You either take a gamble on them before they’ve proven themselves beyond all doubt, or accept that they could well bypass you altogether. Hibs took that chance on Montgomery, and it has failed, for several reasons.

The timing of his arrival was not ideal, especially considering his desire to completely overhaul Hibs’ style of play. Doing so is a very difficult task at top-flight level without having a pre-season and a summer transfer window to implement ideas and sign players who fit the system. Montgomery’s early weeks displayed some promise, with the switch to a possession-based style suggesting he may be on to something, even if it did remain rather unpolished.

There was even a discussion in those formative stages as to whether Hibs had the best attack in the Premiership outwith Celtic and Rangers, and Montgomery steadied a turbulent start to the season by losing only two of his first 13 league matches, both of those coming against the Glasgow sides. But when it came time to kick on further, Hibs faltered.

A 1-0 loss at St Johnstone in early December, on a day when Hibs could have gone third, was the catalyst for a long, difficult winter. The limitations of the squad – assembled by several of Montgomery’s predecessors - were exposed, as was, some felt, the manager’s inflexibility. Hibs went on a run of nine league matches without a win, and there was growing evidence that opposition teams had worked out how to nullify and expose his setup. The football, not aided by the squad being threadbare, became ponderous and Hibs lost their attacking edge while being unable to keep the door closed at the other end.

A last-minute derby defeat to Hearts at Easter Road does not help a Hibs manager’s cause, neither does going down meekly 3-0 at home to Rangers, nor getting the same treatment from St Mirren. Seven signings in the January transfer window appeared to herald a tentative turning of the tide, but it was never sustained, and Hibs missed out on the top six.

READ MORE: Hibs fan group seethe at club over Malky Mackay appointment

Therein lies the key issue with Montgomery’s tenure, any suggestion of improvement was all too fleeting, coming and going sometimes in the space of a single fixture. It became a theme that the manager would lament his side’s inability to kill teams off, a flaw that was punished almost weekly with the concession of costly late goals, yet he seemed unable to find a solution. In excess of 20 points were lost to goals given away from 75 minutes onwards – the campaign’s fatal flaw. He never managed to win a game he wasn't expected to, and his reign suffered badly from the complete absence of a statement result - something for fans to hold on to amid the natural ups and downs of a transitional campaign.

An eternally precarious existence is the occupational hazard of being a Premiership manager, and speculation keeps football’s media machine spinning 365 days a year, yet there was no enjoyment to be had from watching Montgomery – always friendly and easy to deal with - struggle through these last few weeks amid a gnawing sense that the point of no return had been reached and breached.

After Aberdeen, he pointed out that he had signed on for a long-term project, but those agreements are rarely honoured if there are not tangible signs of progress amid the teething problems. On the contrary, the evidence had begun to suggest that the longer Montgomery implemented his methods, the further backwards Hibs went. The initial bounce following his arrival petered out slowly, and the modest post-January uplift already feels like a distant memory. Despite appearing to invigorate a select few in those early weeks, it’s difficult to argue that any Hibs player has significantly improved this season.

As for Montgomery’s own progress, there were consistent question marks over his in-game management and use of substitutes, as is inevitable when a team so frequently fails to see games out. His changes in a 2-2 draw with Ross County back in October, for example, felt like the primary reason Hibs did not take maximum points. With Hibs leading at Fir Park in April, and a top six place beckoning, Montgomery could have shut up shop using experience off the bench, yet only brought on Josh Campbell and Dylan Levitt.

Off the field, fans grew tired of the manager reaching for what they felt were the same go-to lines in pre and post-match interviews, and the final straw for many was his insistence that Hibs were on the up minutes after Aberdeen had put four past them. The disparity in scrutiny between Central Coast Mariners and Hibs cannot have been easy for Montgomery to adjust to. Media presence and fan pressure are utterly incomparable across the two clubs, and the 42-year-old was catapulted from an environment where he would have largely been left alone to coach, into one where he was expected to conduct several press conferences and interviews per week. And, while he was nothing but courteous and generous with his time in those interviews, he leaves with a sense that we never really got to know the real Nick Montgomery, so guarded was he when the tapes went on. At first, his no-nonsense, straight-bat approach was a welcome one for a fanbase who had spent so long listening to Lee Johnson’s flamboyancy, but as the season nosedived they longed for some fire and passion from a manager who was steadfast in his commitment to giving very little away.

READ MORE: Paul Hanlon addresses Hibs departure reversal chances

None of that matters if things are going well on the pitch, of course, but as the football fell flat, it’s little wonder supporters slipped into that state of apathy. They will hold very little ill-will against Montgomery as he leaves Easter Road – every suggestion is that he worked tirelessly to get it right, as well as buying wholesale into Hibs’ wider ethos – and there will be heavy regret that an appointment everyone wanted to work, for a multitude of reasons, has ended in another sacking. Montgomery uprooted his young family from the other side of the world in an attempt to ride to Hibs’ rescue, and this is an outcome that leaves him – plus coaches Sergio Raimundo and Miguel Miranda – facing an uncertain future. He went all in for the club, he just couldn't make it work.

Sacking another manager is a terrible look for Hibs but, with fan opinion always the key barometer, Montgomery’s position had become untenable. He had his failings, yes, but that Hibs remain stuck in this cycle of misery goes far beyond a guy who was only in the building for eight months.