Hibernian: Gamble on 'unknown' boss is paying off, says Michael Stewart
Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has given the club their "identity" back, says former Easter Road midfielder Michael Stewart.
And Stewart insists the board should be commended for putting faith in an "unknown" boss.
Hibs, who drew 0-0 with Celtic on Sunday, are unbeaten in their nine Scottish Premiership games since Heckingbottom replaced Neil Lennon.
"I've been completely won over," Stewart told BBC Sportsound.
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"Huge credit to the board for the appointment. As much as there was a debacle over the way Neil Lennon left, the Hibs hierarchy deserved time and space to make an appointment.
"Since (chief executive) Leeann Dempster came in, the two appointments of Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon have been hugely successful, so they clearly know what they want.
"We knew a little about Heckingbottom, due to his time at Barnsley and short period at Leeds, but not a great deal. There was an element of unknown about him.
"There was a lot of speculation that Michael Appleton was about to get the job, but it speaks volumes for Heckingbottom that nobody is saying they wish that had happened."
Hibs finished fourth under Lennon last season but were eighth when Heckingbottom took charge in February. They have risen to fifth, securing a top-six finish and moving three points clear of capital rivals Hearts who were 11 clear when the Yorkshireman arrived.
The 41-year-old has steered the Easter Road club to four away wins out of four - including a first victory at Tynecastle since 2013 - and their sole defeat was a 2-0 home Scottish Cup loss to Celtic.
"He's taken the components that were already there - he's not made any signings - and packaged them together really well," Stewart added.
"Hibs are now at the level they showed at the end of last season, where they're capable of competing against any team in the division. They have a real identity about them.
"The one blot on his copybook was the cup defeat to Celtic. The game on Sunday highlighted how intelligent a manager he is as he's clearly learned from that. Hibs were too passive in the cup game and on Sunday they were right up and at Celtic and caused them problems.
"Next season there's no reason why they should not be up there challenging for second spot."
'Next season the big test' - analysis
Ayr United manager Ian McCall on BBC Sportsound
His real job will start when he has to change some players. Whether he can keep Marc McNulty, who's on loan.
He looks as if he's completely re-energised the club. There were obviously problems behind the scenes with Neil Lennon for the last two or three months and I think that had an effect on the players.
Heckingbottom's had a magnificent start, but the test will be when he brings in four or five of his own players for a full season and see how he does.