Hibernian manager Lee Johnson is determined to start closing the gap on Celtic and Rangers – and he believes the best way to do it is to develop more homegrown players in the mould of the burgeoning Josh Campbell.
Fifth-place Hibs are currently a whopping 33 points behind the second-place Gers, while even third-place Hearts are 28 adrift of the Ibrox side. Johnson, whose team suffered back-to-back defeats against the Glasgow pair in their two most recent matches, admits he is “shocked” at just how big the gap has become between Scotland’s traditional big two and the rest of the clubs.
“I’m fascinated with closing the gap on the Old Firm,” he said. “It really is something I want to get my teeth into.
“It’s shocked me so far in terms of how big the gap is. Looking back to the first game against Rangers (in August) when we got a draw, I was quite disappointed on the day but now, looking back, I realise what a good result it was.
“We’ve got to find a way both at the back end of this season if we’re in the top six and then into next season of producing more points from those games.”
Johnson admits the huge monetary advantage Celtic and Rangers hold over their rivals makes it hard for anyone to challenge them domestically. However, he believes that shrewd recruitment and player development can help close the gap.
Johnson cited 22-year-old Campbell, a boyhood supporter who came through the academy and is currently the team’s top scorer, as the type of player the Hibees have to develop and then tie down on long-term deals if they are to become a more credible force within Scottish football.
“At the end of the day, if you pay more you get better decision-makers, better athletes and you get top players if you get your recruitment right,” he said. “But for us, the way we close the gap is developing.
“We’ve got some really good young players (in the academy) that are actually used to beating Rangers and Celtic, and I think psychologically that’s quite important.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep our best players and we’ve got to make sure they’re locked down enough not to get whipped away from us for too low a value.
“The more early decisions you can make that bear fruit, the better. For example, Josh Campbell is a player that’s only going to get better with his character and the way we work and the way we coach.
“That’s the type of player we want to be able to put on that stage, and he has big influence on the ball and off the ball. It’s something we’re really looking to do and we want to do it as quickly as possible. The starting point is obviously getting better results against them as quickly as possible.”