Ross County’s Mullin excited by season so far – Podcast

 

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-2

Flying high at the top of the Scottish Championship, Ross County have turned their fortunes around this season after last year’s relegation from the Premiership.

One of the team’s shining players this season, Josh Mullin speaks exclusively to EN4 News ahead of three matches in the next week for the title chasers.

Listen to the podcast below:

Levein’s “fingers crossed” over Naismith’s injury

Craig Levein

Craig Levein will be without Steven Naismith for the second time this season. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hearts star striker Steven Naismith has been ruled out for 10 weeks after requiring surgery on his knee. He was substituted in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last weekend in what would turn out to be his second major setback of this season.

He goes for his operation on Monday next week, however, his manager Craig Levein has not ruled out the possibility that he will return before the end of the season should Hearts make it to the Scottish Cup final.

He said: “I hope so, he came back from injury really quickly last time so fingers crossed it will be the same again. It is unfortunate for him and for us at the club too because we have a lot of big games ahead.”

Levein has voiced his empathy for Naismith, who will not only miss the majority of the club season, but potentially the European Championship play offs at the end of the season. The 32 year old would have most likely been a starter for Alex McLeish’s Scotland side who play Kazakstan and San Marino in the summer.

He said: “It is not only a shame for Hearts. He is also sitting on 49 caps and should be getting his 50th in a couple of months. He is a player whose generation has missed out on getting to major finals with Scotland and there is a chance that could happen this time. So I feel sorry for him as he has worked ever so hard to get back from his last injury.”

Steven Naismith was forced off in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last week (Credit: SNS Group)

However, despite their form dipping the last time they were without Naismith, the Hearts boss is more confident in his squad at this stage of the season.

“When he was out previously we had a shortage of strikers. Craig Wighton is bak fully fit again after his ankle problem and we have also got David Vanecek back with us as well as Uche [Ikpeazu]. So it is a different situation altogether and I don’t feel nearly as anxious as earlier on in the season when we had to deal without Steven in the team.”

Hearts play Dundee away in the league on Saturday as their hunt for Europe continues as they currently sit in fifth place and three points off Kilmarnock. Craig Levein will be hopeful that his side can claim all three points against the team currently a point from bottom in the table.

 

Wighton hoping to benefit from Naismith absence

Craig Wighton

Wighton is looking for a fresh start after injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Craig Wighton is looking to break into the starting line-up ahead of tomorrow’s match against Dundee.

Team-mate Steven Naismith is set to be out for eight to 10 weeks with a recurring knee injury, and whilst Wighton knows that he’ll be a big miss for the club, he believes that the hole can be filled.

“[Naismith] has done a lot for us this season, with the amount of goals he’s got,” Wighton said.

“Obviously he’s already missed a few games this season, and we missed him a lot during that period, so it’s a big task for all the forwards to replace him.

 

“But we’ve got a lot of good players; Uche, Macca, Vanacek and Keena as well. There’s a lot of competition here, but I think for any team, they would miss a player like ‘Naisy’.

“But all the forwards have got to think that [we can take his place]. He’s a big player for us, but we’ve got some important games coming up, so it’s a big opportunity.

“We all need to start chipping in with goals.”

Injury and lack of form has meant that Wighton has been limited to only nine league appearances so far this season. He’s become almost a forgotten man at Tynecastle, something that he accepts, but he insists that he’s ready to make a new start at the club.

“It does a bit [feel like starting again],” he admitted.

“I feel like I’m in better shape than when I first came here.

“I’ve had a few games back-to-back, which I haven’t had for a while. Even though it’s reserves football, it’s good to get these games under your belt to get up to speed.

“I’m feeling sharp now and if I do get called upon, then I’ll be ready.”

Tomorrow’s match will see Wighton return to Dundee, a club he knows very well. He came through the academy at the Tayside club, before leaving them to join Hearts last August.

The 21-year-old admits that he is shocked to see his old side battling relegation this season.

“I am [surprised at Dundee’s position in the league table],” he said.

“Obviously it’s almost a completely different squad to when I left – I don’t know many of the players that are there now – but I’ve seen them a couple of times this season and they’ve been decent.

“But it’s hard to get a good run of games when you’re in that position. It’s a big game on Saturday, so we’ll be looking to go there and get the three points.

“I appreciate everyone that Dundee did of me during my career but I’m at Hearts now. If I get an opportunity on Saturday, I’ll be looking to score.”

Hibs showing great “intensity and drive” says Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom suffered his first defeat as Hibernian manager against Celtic last weekend (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has praised his side’s “intensity and drive” as they look to seal a sixth place spot in the Scottish Premiership.

Heckingbottom has won three of his first four games in charge at Easter Road, but lost to Celtic last weekend 2-0 in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup.

Hibs face Rangers tonight in the league, and the manager admitted that Steven Gerrard’s side could have an advantage as they have a larger squad to work with.

“They’ve been good, hit a lot of form now [and] scoring goals,” Heckingbottom said.

“I can’t imagine Steven changing too much, but he does have the capabilities to do that if he wants with the squad he’s got and the players he’s got competing for each position but I don’t think there’ll be too much different in the set-up and how he approaches the game.

“We’re struggling with injuries and suspensions where we don’t have the personnel to rotate the squad without significantly weakening the team.”

Hibs are currently sixth in the league, three points behind neighbours Hearts but three points clear of St Johnstone.

Heckingbottom revealed that remaining in the top six is now the aim for the rest of the season.

He added: “That’s our focus [and]that’s what our focus has been.

“We’ve been chasing, and we said that before the last away game that all of a sudden we are now in the top six with teams chasing us, we earned the right to be in the driving seat if you like, get the sixth spot.

“The players fought and fought and fought and managed to pull away and get another three points, so it’s that sort of intensity and drive we want to have between now and the end of the season.

“You’ve got to fight for it, whoever does get in that top six will deserve it and we want to make sure that it’s us.”

Heckingbottom also praised the efforts his squad has made to adapt to his tactics, with everyone at the club “on the same page” and “searching for the same answers.”

He said: “The players have responded really well [to my way of working].

“We earned the right to be in the driving seat if you like, [to] get the sixth spot.”

“I spoke to them again in training and whatever ideas I have they’ll do it and when they’re trying and giving everything I back them 100%.

“We know we are in progress, we know where we are in the league in terms of standings, size of clubs, but we have to use that to our advantage and be a team that enjoys playing against the so-called bigger clubs, and also enjoying having the status of a big club ourselves when other teams come to town.

“So we know where we are, we’ve really enjoyed the start but we know we’ve got to keep improving.”

It all gets underway at Easter Road from 7:45pm and the match is live on BT Sport.

Stevenson reveals “excitement” at working under 10th Hibs boss

Lewis Stevenson

Lewis Stevenson has spent 14 years at the club (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian left-back Lewis Stevenson says it’s a clean slate for himself as he works under his 10th boss, Paul Heckingbottom, as he looks to impress his new manager.

The 31-year-old made his debut for the Edinburgh club in 2005 and is currently the longest serving player at the club.

However, he admitted he feels there is still the same nerves when a new boss is appointed.

He said: “Every time a new manager is appointed there is the same nerves and apprehension, and perhaps the same excitement as well. I have learnt something new from everyone who’s managed at Hibs, I don’t think it matters how old you are at all.

“With Paul coming all the way from England, of course the lads feel like they have a point to prove. But as soon as he came in it was clear he knew all about us so that helped put our minds at ease.”

The clubs perfect record under Heckingbottom came to an end in their quarter-final clash with Celtic at Easter Road on Saturday.

Stevenson spoke of the positives and negatives the side took from their defeat against the reigning champions.

He added: “There are things we did very well on Saturday and things we didn’t do so well, but we know what we need to focus on. If we can get rid of the negatives then that will stand us in good stead for the future.”

However, things are not about to get any easier for Easter Road side as they host Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on Friday night.

Lewis Stevenson

Hibernian were knocked out the Scottish Cup last weekend in a 2-0 home defeat to Celtic (Credit: David Ronney)

According to the veteran full back, the games against the bigger teams in Scotland are the ones he relishes most.

He said: “These are the games you really want to play in, when it’s a full house. Big crowds usually mean a higher tempo and a higher intensity of game. We’re a more physical side now and we’ll need all our stamina on Friday night.

“We’re looking at them as a team and we’re well aware how good a side they are from playing them at Ibrox earlier on in the season. But if we implement our game plan then we know we’ve got a very good chance to come away with all the points.”

Hibs are currently in sixth place, and only three points off rivals Hearts. With a European spot not yet out of sight, Stevenson spoke of the sides desire to push on and finish as high in the table as possible.

“We’re trying not to focus too much on how the table looks and just take each game that comes to us. We’ve got five games before the split and we’ll try to get three or four wins and see where that leaves us.”

Uche Ikpeazu inks new Hearts deal until 2022

Uche Ikpeazu

Ikpeazu will remain at Hearts until 2022 (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian forward Uche Ikpeazu has signed a two-year contract extension at Tynecastle.

The Englishman, who joined the club last summer, will remain at the Edinburgh club until 2022.

The striker has recently returned from a five month lay-off following a foot injury, and has been in fine form since.

The 24-year-old insisted that it was an easy decision to commit his future to Hearts.

“This club has given me a great platform to improve. I love the club, the fans, the city and my teammates as well,” he said.

“I genuinely think I’m improving and getting back to my best. I feel I’m back playing really good now.

“I feel confident and it’s just the goals to come, really. Now is the right time to extend my contract here because I feel the love from the management, the staff and the fans.”

Ikpeazu will be looking to net his first goal for the club since August tomorrow when Hearts face relegation battlers Dundee at Dens Park.

Hibs boss calls for improved fan behaviour following bottle incident

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom said Hibernian fans must conduct themselves in the right manner (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has urged fans of the club to become “the best off the pitch” following an incident in last weekend’s Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic.

Celtic winger, Scott Sinclair was almost struck by a bottle and coin thrown from the stands in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat as the hosts bowed out of the Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage.

The incident is one in a long series this season where missiles have been thrown towards match officials, managers and players themselves.

Heckingbottom delivered a message to the supporters of the Edinburgh club, urging them to behave themselves so that the club can become the “best supported” team on and off the pitch.

He said: “People can get carried away I understand that, people may have been out and had a few drinks before, but there’s still a way that you have to behave at a football match.

“And just like how I speak to our players about representing the club our fans represent the club as well, and [while] we want to be the best football team on the pitch, we [also] want to be the best supported team off the pitch as well.”

Heckingbottom continued, stating that misbehaving fans must be identified and disgraced, suggesting that sanctions must be handed out in order nip the issue in the bud.

He added: “It has been topical up here [but] you don’t want to see that anywhere you know.

“And we want to get a grip of it so whilst we can appeal to people to behave themselves and be responsible, we also need to get better ways to identify people and enforce penalties, enforce bans, things like that because you want the best possible products on the pitch and off the pitch.

“As a collective people have to take responsibility for it whether that’s fans in round about, friends if you’ve got a friend misbehaving, clubs to identify their own supporters if they’re possibly doing it and sanctions imposed by whoever can impose the sanctions.”

“You want as many people as you can attending, you want to grow the sport in your country and make it appealing not only to paying fans but TV fans as well and part of that is behaviour and how people perceive individual teams and the league as a whole.

“The safety of the players is paramount. As a footballer you should be going out there and giving it everything, that should be your sole focus to do your job and perform as well as you possibly can. Not worried that every time you take a throw-in or a set-piece and you’re near the fans that something is going to happen.”

Following the incident, Chief Executive Leeann Dempster issued a statement saying the club will be installing additional CCTV cameras to avoid issues like this in the future.

She said: “This incident, and the damage to our reputation, has led us to now invest further in upgrading our already modern CCTV set-up at no small cost.

“Clearly this is also money we would rather be spending on football.

“In future, there will be no hiding place for those few individuals who seek to tarnish the reputation of the vast majority who do Hibernian proud on a weekly basis at grounds all over the country.

“Any supporter caught engaging in behaviour that places players, staff and other fans at risk will be dealt with in the strongest possible terms available to us, whether that involves exclusion from Easter Road Stadium, a Football Banning Order or criminal prosecution when appropriate.

The Easter Road club return to Scottish Premiership action on Friday night as they host Rangers. Kick off is at 7:45pm.

My Morning Routine*

(Credit: Jade Du Preez)

Sectarianism: A continuous plague in Scottish football

Oldfirm

Celtic and Rangers fans at Parkhead (Credit: PaulVIF)

Pie, bovril and sectarianism. A typical day out for some Scottish football fans but the latter, a trend that should have been left well in the past.

In the last few weeks there have been numerous cases of sectarian abuse directed at those on the pitch and on the touch-line.

Kilmarnock manager, Steve Clarke, came out last week to say that he was delighted Chelsea signed him as a young player and took him away from the west coast. He went on to say that he was relieved his children did not have to grow up with such rampant hatred in England.

The source? A majority believe supporters of Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers are at the heart of the ongoing issues.

For these two clubs religion remains a part of the club’s identity for many fans, despite their board’s efforts to distance themselves from the problem. Something which is not replicated in the English scene.

Clarke urged the Scottish FA to step up their efforts in tackling the issue saying: “Things can be done, Will [it] be done is probably much more difficult to address.”

The Scottish FA chief executive, Ian Maxwell, responded in a statement: “The Scottish FA condemns in the strongest possible terms the spate of incidents this season involving unacceptable conduct in Scottish football.”

More recently, Celtic supporters were criticised for posting a video on Twitter of fans in a pub singing about the IRA and ex-Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.

WARNING: Some viewers may find the following video offensive or distressing.

A survey in 2017 of Scottish football supporters found that 81% of supporters thought Scottish football had a problem with sectarianism.

In the following two years there has been little change in the social environment surrounding Scottish football and many fans doubt that any real change will be enacted soon.

But something needs to change. Scottish football lives in the stone age when it comes to this level of discrimination. Clubs must act and distance themselves from the supporters involved if they stand any chance of stamping out sectarianism for good.

Hibs will be different against returning Lennon says Heckingbottom

IMG_2824

Hibernian boss, Paul Heckingbottom said he’s looking forward to meet his predecessor. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager, Paul Heckingbottom believes there will be enough differences tactically for a level playing field upon Neil Lennon’s return to Easter Road.

Celtic take on the Edinburgh club this Saturday in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup with new interim manager, Lennon.

The Northern Irishman left Hibs in January but made a surprise return to Scottish football earlier this week.

However, despite Lennon managing Hibs earlier this season, Heckingbottom said there won’t be a tactical advantage.

He said: “Well it is [his squad]. I’ve not signed a player.

“He is going to know the players but he’s not going to know what we ask them to do. For me it’s the same, for Neil [Lennon] is coming back somewhere he’s worked before which is always strange.

“It’ll different for Neil coming back to his old club which as I say is always a different sensation but for me nothing has changed.

“It’ll be nice to meet Neil [Lennon]. We’ve never met so it’ll be good to catch up after the game.”

It has been an eventful week for Celtic players and fans alike with the departure of Rodgers and his successor. But Heckingbottom insists it’ll be business as usual for the reigning Scottish Cup champions.

He added: “Obviously, Brendan [Rodgers] is gone. Big opportunity for Brendan and big opportunity for Neil now coming in as well. People just have to look forward.

 

“Celtic fans will be moving on now thinking about this trophy [Scottish Cup]. Football does that, everything is a big sensation one minute and then it just dies down and everyone gets on with it.”

The Hibees have won three out of three under new management with on-loan Reading player, Marc McNulty impressing the most. The Scotsman has scored six goals in four matches with his new club and his manager was impressed with his performances so far.

He said: “I’ve been really pleased with him.

“I can see him continually getting better because he’s not played much football and now he’s getting a run of games. He’s getting his fitness levels back up, his sharpness. We know he can score goals. I think he’ll be good for us between now and the end of the season.”

Hibernian vs Celtic: Scottish Cup Preview

Scottish Cup

Hibernian will be hoping to replicate the successful run in 2016 (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian welcome Scottish Cup reigning champions, Celtic to Easter Road this weekend, in what is shaping up to be a fascinating fixture following Neil Lennon’s appointment at the helm of the hoops.

Lennon left the Edinburgh club in Janurary and has made a swift return to Scottish football with Celtic only a month later.

The job of Celtic manager was vacated by Brendan Rodgers, who was tempted south to take over at Leicester City following the sacking of Claude Puel on Monday. This sacking was the start of the carousel of manager turnover this week.

Lennon will no doubt receive a mixed reception from the fans upon his return to Leith.

The Northern Irishman was in the dugout celebrating the last gasp winner against 10-man Hearts on Wednesday night that maintained his side’s eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership table ahead of Rangers in second place.

On the other hand, Hibs have enjoyed a good run of form under their new manager Paul Heckingbottom. The new boss has won three out of three since his arrival in mid February. This included an impressive win at St Johnstone on Wednesday night, with Marc McNulty grabbing the winner five minutes from time despite Hibernian going down to 10 men.

That win took them to within three points of fierce rivals Hearts who currently sit in fifth in the SPFL after a disappointing mid-season lull due a long string of injuries.

Heckingbottom will know beating Celtic will hand them a fantastic chance of silverware this season, which would be all too welcome considering their woes in the league this season.

Neil Lennon will be hoping to win a game at Easter Road, which incidentally is something his predecessor Brendan Rodgers never managed to do. A win is essential if the dream of the treble treble is to be kept alive.

The first match of the Scottish Cup weekend kicks off on Saturday at 5:15pm and is live on Premier Sports.

%d bloggers like this: