WHOLE NEWELL BALL GAME
Newell says Hibs have no reason to fear Rangers after strong start to seasonby Graeme MacPherson
JOE NEWELL reckons Hibs have no reason to fear Rangers after thumping St Mirren to keep up their stunning start to the season.
Jack Ross’ men sit second in the table after winning five of their opening seven matches and banging in 11 goals.
They welcome the Ibrox side to Easter Road for a high noon Sunday showdown full of confidence on the back of another strong display.
Newell scored the second goal against Saints on Saturday and set up the third. And now the midfielder can’t wait to get stuck into Gers.
He said: “We’ve had a very good start to the season. The way we are playing at the minute, with our defensive record, there’s no reason for us to fear anyone and we definitely won’t.
“Obviously we know the threats Rangers have got and the quality they have. But I think we’ve shown enough that we can be feared as well. It should be a good game.
“It’s that winning mentality and the momentum you gain. Obviously they have that as well, as they’ve started the season well. But we’re going in with plenty of confidence.”
Saturday’s game in Paisley almost didn’t go ahead after the Buddies lost all three of their goalkeepers because of coronavirus protocols. But with Bobby Zlamal drafted in on loan at the last minute from Hearts, play was allowed to go ahead. And Hibs made the most of the opportunity.
Kevin Nisbet continued his good run after his summer move from Dunfermline by turning in the first goal.
Newell then claimed the second after being picked out by Martin Boyle. The pair swapped roles for the third, with Newell’s cross deceiving Zlamal to present Boyle with a simple chance.
Hibs had been left to stew for a fortnight after losing to Aberdeen in their last game. And Newell admitted it was good just to get that defeat out of their systems.
He added: “I think it was important to bounce back. We’d had a great start to the season so the Aberdeen loss still hurts a little bit.
“It was important to show a reaction on Saturday. Everyone looked like they enjoyed themselves. It feels like there’s a good balance to the team. You can see that with the defensive record we’ve started the season with.
“In a couple of the performances we weren’t free-flowing going forward but we ground it out. There have also been a couple of performances, like Saturday’s, when we’ve shown that attacking threat and it’s nice to watch.
“As a team it’s just momentum. There’s a consistency — most of the team has stayed the same. It’s just a good place to be at the minute.”
Hibs have still to lose a goal from open play this season and Newell gave a lot of the credit for that to summer signing Alex Gogic.
“Goga coming in has improved us in that respect. Plus the back four have been magnificent too. In saying that, it’s about the whole team.
“The two strikers work their socks off. I’m in there in midfield with Gogic, and the two wide men are not shirking any responsibility either. The defensive record is a team effort.”
Newell’s goal matched his total for all of last season and he joked that it was a collector’s item.
He said: “Yeah, I don’t get many! The gaffer and the coaches have been on at me to try and improve. They’ve given lots of little tips. It’s all about me getting further forward and trying to get into the box more.”
Newell was signed by former Easter Road boss Paul Heckingbottom last summer and was used mostly as a winger in his maiden campaign.
Current gaffer Ross has the 27-year-old operating in the middle of the park, and the ex-Rotherham man feels Hibs are seeing the best of him.
He said: “I wouldn’t say I was concerned when the manager changed. Jack came in and said that everyone would have a clean slate. He started playing me and I’ve enjoyed working under him. It’s been good.
"If you look at my performances when I played wide compared with centrally, there’s a bit of a difference.
"I’m playing more central now, which I prefer. That’s definitely more my natural position.”
Sam Foley admitted Saints had no excuse for their dismal performance, despite the goalkeeping issue which had boss Jim Goodwin raging at the SPFL for forcing his side to play.
Foley agreed the build-up had been tough but felt that didn’t justify the team’s poor display.
The Saints skipper said: “I don’t see the goalkeeper thing as an excuse. Personally, I wanted the game to go ahead as I just wanted to play. Bobby Zlamal is a good keeper and has proved he can play at this level. As a team we just weren’t good enough.
“Bobby came in and made a few good saves. I said to him beforehand, ‘Keep the ball out of the net’. As information goes, that’s as simple as it gets.
“But we just didn’t limit them enough in terms of chances. We’ve gifted them two good chances early on.
“Regardless of who was in goal, it was going to be difficult to stop those.
“It was always going to be difficult with the kind of week that we’ve had. But these are the sorts of obstacles you have to try to overcome as a person and as a footballer. You need to put them to the back of your mind and just get on with your job.”
Saints face Celtic in a rearranged match on Wednesday. And Foley had a cheeky pop at Boli Bolingoli after the defender’s unauthorised trip to Spain had caused the original game to be postponed.
He added: “It will be a tough test, Celtic always is as they’re a good side. We were in for testing on Sunday, so that was my day trip to Spain out the window! But we’re back in training today and will try to figure out a game plan for playing Celtic.”