Forster seeks balance between defence and attack

Jordon Forster looks on as boss Alan Stubbs takes control in training
Jordon Forster looks on as boss Alan Stubbs takes control in training
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Too many goals conceded and far too few scored. It was the recipe for disaster which ultimately lay behind Hibs crashing out of the Scottish Premiership, a mere 31 netted in 38 games, the lowest of any of the top 12 clubs.

And while the 51 lost was far from the worst, the Easter Road club’s shortcomings in the opposition penalty area resulted in a deficit of 20 goals, only Kilmarnock suffering a wider margin in the goals for, goals against columns.

By that barometer of Alan Stubbs’ squad would appear to be halfway there, one solitary goal lost in six pre-season matches, the obvious fact arising from that statistic being that five clean sheets were clocked up. Ten goals were scored, the downside being that in half of their games, Hibs failed to find the opposition net.

The no-scoring draw against Leage Two East Fife which wrapped up the Easter Road club’s preparations ahead of Tuesday night’s Petrofac Training Cup clash with 
Rangers which kicks off their new season, again prompted head coach Stubbs to identify the need for a greater ruthlessness in the penalty box, demanding that the possession Hibs enjoyed in the majority of their matches produces many more chances.

However, like Stubbs, central defender Jordon Forster is confident the goals will come, pointing to the acquistion of Farid El Alagui – who netted 27 in 43 matches for Falkirk at Championship level – veteran hitman Paul Heffernan’s return from injury at Bayview and the emergence of teenage strikers Jason Cummings and Lewis Allan.

Forster said: “Obviously we were disappointed not to score against East Fife, but the positive stat was that it was our fourth clean sheet in six games. Last season we conceded far too many and didn’t score enough so it’s a matter of getting that balance. As a defender, not conceding is what you are looking for in any game and defensively I think we are looking a lot better.

“But I am confident we have goals in the team. We’ve brought in Farid, Paul is coming back while there’s Jason, Lewis and Danny Handling too. Scott Allan is a creative midfielder and we’ll be looking for him to slip passes in to claim a few assists to his name.”

Despite the wholesale departures following relegation, Hibs will have a familiar look at the back as they head into the new campaign with Forster, Paul Hanlon, Michael Nelson and Lewis Stevenson surviving the cull adminstered by former manager Terry Butcher, while the return of Callum Booth after two seasons on loan at Livingston and then Raith Rovers, allied to the signing of right back David Gray, has added competition for places.

A new goalkeeper has also arrived in the shape of Mark Oxley, the on-loan Hull City player filling the vacancy created by the axing of Ben Williams, Sean Murdoch and Paul Grant and to that end, Forster believes the ten-day delay in facing Rangers with Ibrox having been used for the Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens tournament, will benefit Hibs following the massive upheaval of the summer.

He said: “It’s given us the chance to get another game under our belts, another week’s training to tune our fitness even more. It’s been a big thing since the gaffer’s come in, he wants us to be a very fit team, to make the pitch big, to get the ball down and play good football.

“And when we lose it we are to get it back as quickly as possible and as high up the pitch as we can. I think the fans who have been at our matches will have liked seeing us go about getting the ball back with hunger, aggression and desire.

“It was always important with a new goalkeeper coming in that we get to know him having had Ben behind us for the past two seasons. As a back four, you want to have a good relationship with your goalkeeper and having this extra week or so has allowed us to work together and it will benefit the team as a whole.

“David’s a good player who, when we’ve played together, has helped me through games and I’ll learn from him. And, hopefully, having been asked to play out there quite a lot last season, his arrival will allow me to predominantly play in the centre where I prefer.

“On the other side there’s good competition for places with Callum back at the club to no doubt battle it out with Lewis.”

But Forster believes Stubbs’ signings won’t be the only ones turning up the heat in the battle for places with fans having been given a glimpse of a raft of promising youngsters, Lewis Allan, Callum Crane and Aaron Dunsmore having started against East Fife.

Still only 20 himself, Forster, along with the likes of Sam Stanton, Alex Harris and Handling are being considered among the more senior members of Stubbs’ squad. Like Forster – who made his debut in a derby win at Tynecastle only 15 months ago – the new kids on the block appear to have come from nowhere but, the big defender insisted, they are already catching the eye of the head coach.

He said: “The gaffer is one who if you are doing well you will be involved, if you are doing well in training then you will play, and I think he has shown that in pre-season. There’s the group of us who are still only 19 or 20 but now we have these 17 and 18-year-olds keeping us on our toes.

“They’ve had a taste of it – Tom Gardiner is another who has come in and done well – but while the season will be a bigger test for them, they’ll be looking for that chance. And, for the rest of us, we know that if we don’t perform then they are there waiting which can only benefit us in the long run.”

Forster accepts Hibs couldn’t face a tougher start to the season than to travel to face the favourites for the Championship title, but he also insists it’s an opportunity for him and his team-mates to lay down a marker for the rest of the season. He said: “Obviously the league itself and doing our very best to win promotion is the priority.

“But when the draw was made the gaffer immediately said it would be a good game for us. We want a dressing-room full of winners, guys who believe every game is as big as the next one. The boys are confident, looking forward to the game with the belief that if we go out and perform, then we’ll come away with the victory.”