Scottish football comes at you fast. As Nick Montgomery is about to discover.
His best bet? Lean into it. Embrace the mayhem. And view the fast-approaching Easter Road triple header as the perfect opportunity to electrify the support, energise his squad – and transform Hibernian’s season.
Starting with Saturday’s visit of St Johnstone, Montgomery’s men face three home games over eight days.
Potentially just 90 minutes from Hampden, the combination of one winnable Viaplay Cup quarter-final and two Scottish Premiership fixtures against bottom-six opponents represents a real chance for Hibs to change the narrative of a campaign only notable, so far, for poor domestic form and the departure of an unpopular manager.
Speaking of difficult starts to the season … Saturday’s opponents would appear to be nothing less than a club in freefall. On and off the park.
St Johnstone’s crippling financial losses go hand in hand with their first team’s inability to get results in competitive fixtures.
Rookie head coach Steven McLean, named interim boss in April and confirmed as gaffer the following month, has spoken publicly about the need to “shop in different markets” after budget cuts hammered his summer recruitment hopes.
And the lack of investment in the playing squad has certainly shown. With the honourable exception of a brilliant nil-nil draw at Celtic Park, Saints have endured a rotten start to 2023-24.
Beaten in League Cup group games by Stenhousemuir, Ayr and Stirling, they’ve got just two Premiership points in the bag – and prop up the table for a reason.
They’re being outscored, outshot and generally outplayed by opponents, trailing behind in every meaningful metric you might attach to a team.
McLean’s men have been conceding almost a goal-and-a-half per game, on average, while struggling to maintain a scoring rate of a goal every two games. No wonder their last seven results have yielded just two draws and five losses.
Still, they are St Johnstone. Winners on their only trip to Easter Road last season. Awkward, always.
If Saturday offers a chance to regain some ground in the league, the visit of St Mirren in Wednesday night’s Viaplay Cup quarter-final provides sweet release from the drudgery of trying to climb the table.
The memory of last month’s 3-2 home defeat to the Buddies should act as a guard against complacency. As should the fact that St Mirren currently sit second in the Premiership.
Direct and effective, Stephen Robinson’s team have mastered the art of winning tight games, with five of their seven victories this season coming by just a single goal. Nobody expects them to be anything but a threat.
But a home quarter-final just over two weeks into his time at Hibs is a gift to the new manager. A one-off. A golden opportunity to generate instant euphoria with the promise of a trip to the national stadium on the weekend of November 4/5. Fireworks guaranteed.
Finalists in season 2021-22, Hibs’ reputation as consistent performers in the knock-out competitions took a serious battering last year, with Johnson’s men exiting the League Cup at the group stages before being thrashed 3-0 by Hearts at Easter Road in round four of the Scottish Cup.
Hibs fans never quite forgave Johnson for either of those embarrassments. His successor reaching the final four, just a couple of weeks into the job, would go a long way to generating the sort of goodwill needed as Montgomery looks to rebuild the team.
By the time we get to Hibs v Dundee on Saturday week, of course, all bets may be off.
Monty’s men could be flying high on the confidence boost of back-to-back victories. Shattered by the exertions of a midweek match that might not be settled in 90 minutes. Nursing any number of knocks.
They also face a Dark Blues side who have, under the guidance of new boss Tony Docherty, enjoyed a solid enough start to the league season - including beating Hearts.
That’s the challenge, then. A whirlwind of fixtures in a week when time on the training ground will likely be limited to limb-loosening exercises and the odd bit of work on team shape.
How Montgomery fares in this treble test will go a long way to setting the tone for a season that takes a sharp turn towards more obviously daunting territory from the following weekend, with Hearts (A), Rangers (A) and Celtic (H) next on the dance card.
Not much time to stop and smell the flowers in this gig, is there?
St Johnstone (H) – Saturday, Sept 23
Key stat: One win all season, away to Alloa back in July.
Last meeting: St Johnstone 1 Hibs 1, 22.4.23
St Mirren (H – Viaplay Cup quarter-final) – Wednesday, Sept 27
Key stat: Have lost just one of their TEN competitive fixtures this season, winning seven and drawing two.
Last meeting: Hibs 2 St Johnstone 3, 6.8.23
Dundee (H) – Saturday, Sept 30
Key stat: Haven’t won at Easter Road since October 2001.
Last meeting: Dundee 3 Hibs 1, 10.5.23