Keith Wright believes Chris Humphrey can help Hibs wing it to the Championship title.
Easter Road boss Neil Lennon swooped to snap up the former Motherwell wideman on a deal until the end of the season only hours after his contract with Preston North End was mutually terminated.
And the move will see Humphrey team up once again with Grant Holt, a team-mate when the pair were together at Shrewsbury Town, a season in which the Hibs striker plundered 28 goals and with it a £400,000 switch to Norwich City.
Skol Cup legend Wright sees no reason why the duo can’t quickly rekindle that partnership in Edinburgh, adamant the arrival of Jamaican internationalist Humphrey will provide the key to unlock the packed defences Lennon’s players have been confronted with throughout the season.
Wright, who enjoyed the fruits of the labour of players such as Mickey Weir, Kevin McAllister and Michael O’Neill from the flanks as he claimed 76 goals in a green-and-white shirt, said: “I was always very impressed by Humphrey when he was with Motherwell. His pace and directness was always a threat to opposition teams.
“He should be a very good asset, the type who can not only throw in decent deliveries but be able to get in behind defences and offer real penetration.
“I’d imagine big guys like Grant Holt and Brian Graham, who can get across defenders, will thrive on the crosses he can supply. That’s the sort of service strikers are crying out for and, even if they aren’t getting headers on target, then the likes of Jason Cummings and Martin Boyle will live off the scraps, the knock-downs and the rebounds.”
While much is made of strikers developing partnerships, Wright, now an SFA development officer in Midlothian, insisted building an understanding between centre -forwards and their wingers was just as important.
Recalling his own Hibs days, he said: “We had that spell under Alex Miller at Hibs when we had Mickey, Crunchie and Michael, who could all play out wide and, as the striker, you quickly got to know what they were going to do.
“Mickey would destroy full backs, he’d come inside and play one-twos or he’d drop the shoulder, go on the outside and take on an extra man.
“We built up a great understanding. I’d watch his eyes and know when he wasn’t looking to cross but to come inside and link up. Other times, he’d appear from a standing start, drop the shoulder and head off and I knew I had to get myself into the box.
“Michael would come from deeper. He’d just drift past players but, when he got to the bye-line, I knew to delay my run because he’d always come back onto his other foot before putting in a great delivery.”
It may be eight years since Holt and Humphrey played together, but Wright insisted it won’t take them long to link up in the same devastating fashion.
He said: “I don’t think the years will make any difference. They’ll both remember what the other was about. I think Holt is great at taking the ball in and getting players in and around him but having someone who can supply pace and penetration makes it difficult for defenders.
“I’d imagine Chris can either run in behind or come short and take people on, forcing defenders to back off him. Defenders will be wary of his lightning pace. No-one is comfortable with someone running at them with speed.”
Wright believes the options Humphrey will bring is just what Hibs need, noting the fact that Lennon’s players have struggled at times to contend with opposition teams who, particularly at Easter Road, set up to frustrate, confronting the Capital side with two banks of four or a four and a five while looking to hit on the break and apply a sucker punch which then gives them something to hold onto.
He said: “Obviously, Hibs are desperate to get out of this league and back into the Premiership but, it’s a tough division with, as we see from the results almost every week, every team being capable of beating each other.
“Hibs should be winning and convincingly but no matter what level you play at these days teams are more organised. They make it very difficult for you to break them down and play on getting the players and fans frustrated.
“The players just need to be strong as they were against Falkirk. If it takes until the final few minutes or the last minute itself to get the winner then so be it. It’s great if you can score early, go on to win by three or four, put in a great performance and the fans see the team playing entertaining, attacking football and scoring goals. But teams are set up against you not to lose games so having someone like Humphrey, who can perhaps create something out of nothing, will be really important in the weeks ahead.
“Hopefully, he still has that pace and directness he showed during his seasons with Motherwell.” Given the speed at which Hibs moved to persuade Humphrey to return north of the Border, Wright questioned whether Holt may have played a part although, of course, Lennon himself would be well aware of the 29-year-old both from his time in Lanarkshire and with Preston when the former Celtic boss was in charge of Bolton Wanderers.
He said: “There are always friendships in football so perhaps Holt got a wee whisper as to what was happening with Humphrey and made Neil Lennon aware of the situation.
“Whatever the case, the good thing is that Humphrey has already had experience of football in Scotland and he knows Hibs are a big club and what’s expected.”
The arrival of Humphrey coincides with the imminent return of John McGinn – the Scotland internationalist took part in the warm-up prior to the Falkirk game following ankle surgery – and his fellow midfielder Fraser Fyvie while Hibs fans debate whether or not Celtic’s Kris Commons , signed on a 28-day emergency loan, will extend his stay in the Capital.
It’s all positive news as far as Wright is concerned ahead of Friday night’s clash with Dundee United, deposed after just one week at the top of the table.
He said: “Beating Falkirk was a massive result and the players will have taken a huge lift knowing they are going into this game on top.
“A win gives them a real chance to start putting a bit of daylight between themselves and United going into the home straight. It’s always better to be in that position than having to chase.”