At the side of Easter Road stadium is a giant photo of David Gray lifting the Scottish Cup with the word ‘Persevered’ underneath. This is a club that has to toil away for success, but I have to deliver it, soon.
Hibernian, cup holders, are in the Scottish Championship. For years a top-flight mainstay, a dramatic cup victory over Rangers was the first time they lifted that trophy in 104 years. Perhaps it will signal an attitude change, a belief that Hibernian can compete at the top of Scottish football again. It’s my job, as incoming Hibs boss, to ensure they do just that. Why Hibs? Well, I don’t know really. I like a challenge sure, and they’re a club with a lot of history, and a serious chance of promotion in their first season, but mainly I just like ‘Sunshine on Leith’, the Proclaimers and Hibs anthem. The sight of them singing that at full time at Hampden was spine-tingling. I want to be a part of that.
It’s made clear to me, in no uncertain terms, when I arrive that the goal is promotion – as champions. Hibs are the biggest club in the Scottish Championship with Dundee United the next biggest. It will surely be a two horse race.
My squad is good for this level, and my backroom staff is alright as well. I don’t want to spend money average players only to have to flog them once we achieve promotion. Mercurial Dutch winger and Celtic reject, Erik Boerrigter, comes in on a free transfer, as does former Rangers centre-half Sebastian Faure, who’s been without a club for a whole season. They come in, and nobody leaves in the summer transfer window.
A real novelty for a side at my level is European football. The cup win last season means my pre-season is far from conventional, with games against Slavia Prague coming in between friendlies. Unfancied for this EURO Cup 2nd qualifier, my boys surprise and impress me with a 3-1 win in the home leg. They then follow it up by battling for a 2-2 draw in the Czech Republic. I like this team.
The season starts swimmingly. I don’t lose in the league until mid-November, with Queen of the South spoiling my dreams of an invincible season. There’s mixed successes in the various cup competitions. I race into the final of the Betfred Cup (only needing to beat Hamilton, Raith and Falkirk), get knocked out on penalties in my first Challenge Cup game and put up a fight against Sassuolo in the EURO Cup, but the Italians’ quality shines through. A 2-0 first leg defeat away from home effectively killed the tie, but we fought hard at Easter Road and were so unlucky that we weren’t able to win by more than one goal. It’s alright, at least we gave the fans something to cheer.
We look good. Playing a 4-2-3-1 is bringing the best out of right winger Martin Boyle and centre-forward Jason Cummings, who are making mincemeat out of a number of poor defences. Central midfielders McGinn and McGeouch are playing well, too and catching the eye of many a club.
In November, we have a cup final. A cup final in November! Scotland is weird. It’s Celtic, by far the best team in the country, against us, from the second tier, who have just lost a certain aura in the defeat to Queen of the South. We’ll just give it ago and see what we can do.
Blimey. Maybe Celtic aren’t taking the Betfred Cup very seriously but bloody hell that’s an excellent win. Andrew Shinnie, a midfielder on loan from Rotherham, caps an amazing day and this result makes me a cup winner five months into a new job. Marvellous work. I still can’t explain the result. We just wanted it more.
I maintain good league form over the winter months. I’m still top of the table but the gap narrows when Morton (Morton!) emerge as a serious title contender. Queen of the South turn into a real pain in my backside, not only beating me in the league again but knocking me out of the Scottish cup.
I’m nervous now, not only are Morton gaining on me but I’m forced into selling some of my best players for the good of the club’s finances. John McGinn goes to Derby for £1.7m, Dylan McGeouch to Forest for £775,000 and Wolves take Jason Cummings off us for £500,000. I need to re-invest some of this money if I am to keep Raith away from me. In come free agents Kenny Miller and Lee Lucas, Celtic loanee Connor McManus, midfielders Craig Storie, James Vincent and Michael Paton, and strikers Shaun Miller and Joe Gormley. Gormley, who I pay £750,000 for, will be the worst signing I ever, ever make. What a nightmare.
The two Millers are good though. Kenny relishes being at his old club and you can sense the 37-year-old having an impact on a dressing room that needs to unite. Shaun Miller, £300k from Carlisle, is just what the doctor ordered, scoring 10 in 14 games.
After the cup exit, we get our mojo back. We’re scoring goals for fun. Six straight victories scoring 21 goals, including a 3-1 victory over bloody Morton. Goals are flying in from Miller, Miller, Shinnie, Storey and Boerrigter. We’re cooking now. The title will surely be ours.
Then we blow up. Three gut-punching defeats in a row to teams we should be seeing off comfortably. Morton gain more and more ground on us, and then, after what I can only describe as the massacre at Cappielow Park, they overtake us with four games left.
Perhaps we aren’t going up after all. Maybe Morton, somehow, are just better than we are – they’re not showing any sides of cracking at to lose 5-0 at their place for a fourth straight defeat is just awful. I now have four games in which to save my job. The expectations weren’t that I go up by hook or by crook, the board expect the title. Next up is Queen of the South, banes of my season so far. Time to be tight at the back and let our quality shine through.
Have that. 4-0 and even Gormley scored (his second in ten games). Even better news is that Morton have slipped, and their 1-1 draw at Raith means I regain the top spot I lost in such humiliating fashion. I must now do that they couldn’t, and see off Rovers.
Shaun Miller you beauty. Two goals from my new marksman and I survive a nervous second half to stay in what I see as my rightful position at the top of the league. I’m top by one point still. Ayr are next. We could win the title if we win and Morton lose. I remind my players of their responsibilities to a set of fans who can’t take a heartbreak after such a long season. The Betfred Cup victory would be a pitiful consolation prize.
Oh boy did I celebrate that Fyvie goal. Wee Fraser Fyvie, the underrated cog in my midfield, cracks in a late winner from the edge of the area that sends nearly 2,000 away fans into raptures. It’s only his third goal of the season. What news from Morton?
They’ve drawn. I’m top, by three points, with a +2 better goal difference. I just have to draw the next game, basically, and the title is ours. It’s annoying that it’s had to go to the last game of the season, but it’s certainly a thrilling denouement to my first season in charge.
The team to play St. Mirren is: Mirciano; Gray, McGregor, Fontaine, Hanlon; Storie, Fyvie; K. Miller, Shinnie, Boerrigter; S. Miller. I trust these guys. That’s the second meanest defence in the league, that back four – and anyone of those attacking players is capable of winning this game for me.
We don’t have to be nervous for very long. Shaun Miller breaks the deadlock 15 minutes in and we’re well on top. St. Mirren haven’t had a shot. Time to keep our heads.
On, 64 minutes, St. Mirren take their first shot, and score it. Yikes. Oh god no, let’s not bottle this. Morton are winning their game. I’m not far from disaster here.
Shaun Miller seals his hat-trick, and the title, with two goals in two minutes. What a signing he was. Substitute McManus makes it 4-1 with not long left, and David Gray lifts the Scottish Championship Title. Sunshine on Leith rings around Easter Road and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We persevered. We are going up, and now the real work begins.
Manager of the Month: Four times
Manager of the Year Winner
Top Scorer: Jason Cummings (21)
Most Assists: Fraser Fyvie (13)
Fans Player of the Year: Andrew Shinnie
Highest Average Rating: Fraser Fyvie (7.29 in 46 appearances)
David Cowlishaw is a freelance writer and host of the Wizards of Drivel Podcast.