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Heckingbottom. It's a name that conjures up images of Hovis ads, cricket on the village green, pints of bitter and a life down t'mine. It also happens to be the name of a football manager who brings Hibernian supporters out in a cold sweat. It's a little more than four years since Paul of that ilk was in the Easter Road hotseat and it is not a time that is recalled fondly by supporters of Edinburgh's green and white. In raw statistical terms the Englishman's record was up there with among the worst win percentages during his short-lived spell in charge which lasted a mere 10 months from February 2019 until November of the same year. It wasn't Colin Calderwood or Terry Butcher bad but it wasn't far off it with Heckingbottom registering a win ratio of 34.38%, the eighth worst in the club's history.

In a recent interview with a national newspaper Heckingbottom's time in charge of Hibs was glossed over somewhat. He was strangely tightlipped describing it thus: “I went to Hibs with Sir Tom Farmer and how that was set up was really clear. But within four months of me going there, they sold the club — I found out the day before — to Ron Gordon. The whole dynamic of the club changed. The owner will always be the most important person at the club, not the manager.”

It made it sound as if his truncated tenure was happenstance – a whimsical decision by Farmer's successor – rather than the direct consequence of turgid football and poor results.

Of course, Heckingbottom was not the first coach or player to come up from England with high expectations only to fall flat on his face. It had all started so brightly for the Yorkshireman, who had impressed enough during the interview stage to persuade Leeann Dempster and the rest of the Hibernian board that he was the man to steady the ship at Easter Road following a tempestuous end to Neil Lennon's reign.


A 2-0 win over Hamilton Academical in his first start triggered a 10-match unbeaten run which included an impressive 1-1 draw with Rangers. By season's end, Hibs had finished fifth and optimism was high that with a solid pre-season under Heckingbottom – and a raft of new signings – they would challenge for the European places. That faith in his coaching powers seemed to be franked by a win over St Mirren on the opening day but it proved to be a false dawn with Hibs falling to a 6-1 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox in their next match. That thrashing proved to be a bellwether for future results rather than a minor blip and following a run of 11 games in 12 without victory – including a 5-2 League Cup semi-final defeat by Celtic – Heckingbottom's time at Hibernian was brought to an end.

After his departure, he set about rebuilding his reputation in charge of Sheffield United's Under-23s, standing in when the club sacked Chris Wilder in March 2021 and then being asked to take over when they parted company with Slavisa Jokanovic, eight months later. He has not looked back since being given his latest opportunity. Last season, Sheffield United finished fifth but fell short of promotion when they were knocked out of the Championship play-offs by Nottingham Forest. It has been a different story this time around during a campaign in which the remnants of a team that spent two seasons in the Premier League have been melded to a number of smart new signings – and under Heckingbottom's tutelage it has brought impressive results. Indeed, he has even managed to get a tune out of one-time Scotland striker Oli McBurnie, who has scored 15 times in all competitions.

They knocked out Tottenham in the fifth round of the FA Cup on their way to the semi-finals, secured promotion to the Premier League late last month and had two players – Iliman Ndiaye and Anel Ahmedhodzic – named in the Championship team of the year.

He might be tight-lipped about it now but you can bet that Heckingbottom learned plenty of lessons from the adversity of his time at Hibernian. That's what they say, isn't it? You glean more from your defeats than you do from winning.