‘Fill void left by Omeonga’ – Hibs boss makes demand of his players

Paul Heckingbottom has called on one of his players to step up and fill the void left in Hibs’ midfield by the departure of Stephane Omeonga.

Saturday, 24th August 2019, 6:30 am
Hibs' Stephane Omeonga challenges Scott Brown of Celtic last season. Pic: SNS

The Belgian Under-21 internationalist made a huge impact at Easter Road after arriving on loan from Italian Serie A side Genoa for the second half of last season

Heckingbottom had hoped Omeonga would return for a second spell in Edinburgh, but his concern that Hibs would be outbid were realised when the 23-year-old joined Cercle Brugge in his homeland, the Belgian side taking him on loan for the full season, with the option to buy.

But while Omeonga was seen as an attack-minded player, the Hibs head coach insisted he was also one of his team’s best defenders and is now being missed.

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Having seen his side concede nine goals in two matches – hammered 6-1 by Rangers before needing extra-time to beat Championship club Morton 5-3 to clinch a Betfred Cup quarter-final tie away to Kilmarnock – Heckingbottom insisted the problem didn’t lie at the feet of his back four but “the whole team”.

And, having brought eight new players to the club over the summer, he rejected the suggestion it might be down to those arrivals needing time to gel.

He said: “We conceded six at Rangers but those were all players who were here last year. It’s nothing at all to do with them gelling. One of our attackers, or one of our front four, was Stephane Omeonga, who people called a flair player but he wasn’t just a flair player, he was the best defender in the team. He won the ball back all the time, he was on the front foot all the time.

“We have lost that and we need someone to step up and do that or we have to change our play a little bit to make sure we have that strength when we don’t have the ball.

“If we can do that, winning the ball back becomes an attacking weapon.

“Our first goal on Saturday, we had a good bit of play, got in behind them and the crowd were on their feet. Then we actually lose the ball but win it back straight away in their final third of the pitch and we get a goal after two passes.

“That’s what I’m talking about, that’s what we need to get better at.”