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37 of 060 Christian Nade 38 ;Gary Glen 92 SC A

Paatelainen toils to keep head above water

Colin Leslie
THE annual confirmation that this is not going to be the year Hibs win the Scottish Cup may have become just another inevitable date on the calendar, but the despondency felt by their long-suffering supporters this time around has sparked a wider debate about the direction the club is taking under chairman Rod Petrie and, more acutely, manager Mixu Paatelainen.
The fact that this year's cup exit came at the hands of arch- rivals Hearts was always going to provoke an emotional response, but the message-boards were in danger of meltdown yesterday as fans vented their spleen at what is fast becoming another s eason of underachievement and lack of obvious progress.

Hibs supporters are occasionally accused of having unrealistic expectations, but the club has now qualified for Europe only four times in the past 30 years, the Scottish Cup curse continues into a 108th year, and the fans are entitled to demand more.

Paatelainen, 41, has only been in the job 12 months and has three-and-a-half years left on his contract. When he took the reins he stressed he would need time to mould the squad into a unit capable of delivering his objectives. Judging by yesterday's backlash, the clock is ticking.

His predecessor John Collins had walked out at Easter Road, frustrated by what he perceived to be a lack of financial backing from the boardroom, but in Paatelainen's case the notoriously parsimonious Petrie has cut him some slack and allowed him to recruit 14 players.

A manager stands or falls by his signings, and Paatelainen appears to be on shaky ground when judged on his transfer dealings so far. Two of the players he brought in last season, Martin Canning and Abderaouf Zarabi have already been and gone, while last summer's arrivals Joe Keenan, Fabian Yantorno, Steve Pinau and Steve Thicot have yet to make any significant impact. The return of Derek Riordan from Celtic looked a gamble well worth taking, and it would be harsh to blame Paatelainen for the striker's current lack of form.

Petrie showed ambition by financing the signing, but on the evidence of recent weeks there is a nagging doubt that 18 months in the wilderness at Parkhead may have affected Riordan. It is undoubtedly a problem for Paatelainen to contend with, another one being the outside interest in arguably his best performer this season, captain Rob Jones.

The arrival of Riordan, and more recently Jonatan Johansson – another player clearly below his optimum sharpness – has made the Hibs squad top heavy with forwards when, to most observers, the midfield is the most pressing problem.

Squigglers apart, John Rankin has not exactly stamped his authority on the side. His lack of physical stature need not necessarily be a hindrance, but it is when most other contenders for wide or midfield berths at Easter Road – Keenan, Dean Shiels, Ross Chisholm, Lewis Stevenson and Alan O'Brien – would need to stand on a stack of phonebooks to get close to six foot tall.

Sol Bamba has proved a shrewd acquisition, adding some much-needed muscle to the midfield, but his brief is to protect the back four rather than surge into attack, and there is a glaring lack of creativity in the middle of the park.

Hibs supporters might be a little more relaxed if the so-called 'conveyor belt of talent' was still producing gems at Easter Road, but there have been precious few breakthroughs from the reserve or under-19 ranks during the Paatelainen era.

If Hibs do fade out of contention in the race for a Uefa Cup spot, or even a top-six finish, then Paatelainen's future may depend on blooding some of the young players with an eye on next season. It certainly seems unlikely the Finn will be able to return to the cheque book too many more times before Petrie snaps it shut. Paatelainen has been given the chance to bring in his own men, and it is not the chairman's fault the players are under-performing.

Speaking shortly after his appointment last year, Paatelainen pointedly said: "I'm hopefully looking to build the squad which would look more like my squad. It takes one or two years to get a team playing in the way you want."

The manager has already been granted his first wish, but the second segment of that statement is perhaps the one that perplexes Hibs supporters the most – just what is Paatelainen's style of football? When he was unveiled, Paatelainen – whose only previous managerial experience was with Cowdenbeath and TPS Turkuu – declared: "I believe my desire to see teams play exciting, attacking and intelligent football fits well with the club's philosophy."

That may indeed be his desire, but Hibs fans are still waiting to see the results and performances to back up those bold words. Like it or lump it, most managers have a signature style of football, but Paatelainen's sides remain an enigma. Formations and strategies have changed like the weather, and while a manager is entitled to experiment and adapt, it's still anyone's guess what exactly his ideal system is. The end result of the chopping and changing is inconsistency.

Paatelainen's best run of form can be traced back to his first few weeks in the post when Hibs won five out of eight matches. They have fallen short since and the manager's overall statistics in all competitions are an unconvincing 15 wins from 43 matches, with 18 defeats and ten draws. Of more concern, Hibs have won only one out of a combined tally of 14 matches against Celtic, Rangers and Hearts. If he hit the ground running, he is wading through treacle now.

While the 'Mixu must go' bandwagon isn't quite up to full speed, it has certainly left the depot. Unless the Finn can quickly galvanise a team shorn of confidence into an encouraging run of results, he may have trouble halting it before the end of the season.




Colin Nish (January)

John Rankin (January)

Ian Murray (January)

Abderraouf Zarabi (January)

Martin Canning (February)

David van Zanten (June)

Joe Keenan (July)

Steven Thicot (July)

Steve Pinau (August, loan)

Fabian Yantorno (August)

Sol Bamba (September)

Derek Riordan (September)


Jonatan Johansson (January)

Grzegorz Szamotulski (January)



Keegan Ayre (April)

Abderraouf Zarabi (May)

Mikael Antoine-Curier (May)

Clayton Donaldson (August)

Martin Canning (September)

Zibi Malkowski (September)

Merouane Zemmama (September loan, Al Sha'ab)

Abdessalam Benjelloun (deal with Al Sha'ab pending)


Thierry Gathuessi (January)

Filipe Morais (January)

Taken from the Scotsman

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