Hibs reaction: Goals are on the Hibees' New Year wish list
The problem has been obvious for weeks and yet the solution is far from easy to find, but Hibs somehow have to discover the art of killing off teams.
Time and again they have dominated matches and yet come up short. Think back to Dundee at Dens Park, St Johnstone away, being 2-0 up at home to Motherwell, ahead at Hamilton and now, battering Kilmarnock from pillar to post only to be once again forced to settle for a draw.
Even Killie striker Kris Boyd, who had stunned the home fans by opening the scoring after only 61 seconds, admitted Hibs should have won, describing the final result as “a fantastic point for us”.
Throughout the 90 minutes the Capital outfit dominated possession, had 13 shots at goal – but only two on target – and 16 corners to Killie’s three, and yet had to rely on a blunder by former Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald for the equaliser as teenage striker Oli Shaw cashed in on the mistake.
Little wonder, then, that boss Neil Lennon has made securing another attack-minded player during the transfer window which opened today a priority, although he won’t be alone in that regard, strikers who can find the net consistently both a rare and, inevitably, expensive commodity.
Yes, Hibs have had regular scorers in Simon Murray, Anthony Stokes, Martin Boyle and now Shaw, but other than Murray’s early-season splurge you would hardly describe any of them as having been prolific, while towering Lithuanian frontman Deivydas Matulevicius has flopped so badly he is free to find another club despite having arrived on a two-year deal in the summer.
It all adds up, admitted Lennon’s assistant Garry Parker, to the feelgood factor engendered by an impressive return to Premiership football being tainted by frustration, Hibs going into the winter break sitting a commendable fourth but knowing they could easily have been enjoying an even loftier perch.
“We can’t complain,” he said. “We’ve come out of the Championship and are in fourth position but we are not really happy because we should have more points.” And, when asked what could be done better in the second half of the season, he replied: “Not dropping as many points, simple as that.”
Parker conceded a lack of goals was something of a concern, but insisted they should be coming from “all over the park” with the midfield players in particular chipping in with more, a point well made when you consider how few have come from that area.
In terms of league goals John McGinn has netted three, Vykintas Slivka – his game time admittedly limited of late – one and the others having failed to score at all, leading to Hibs having managed just 31 goals in their 22 matches thus far.
The return of Danny Swanson, last season’s top scorer at St Johnstone, following a wretched first half of the season, should help in that regard although the 31-year-old was making only his tenth appearance on Saturday – and a first start since September. And, he freely admitted to ring rust as he passed up an early opportunity to cancel out Boyd’s opening goal. Having fired Stokes’ cutback inches wide of the wrong side of the post, he said: “I should have scored. The gaffer did say that to me. I wanted it earlier, but it’s Stokes so that’s not going to happen, is it? I should have hit the net – I did but it was the side net. The gaffer gave me a bit [of grief] because I am here to score goals but, after the game, he said he’d watched it back and it was a difficult chance.
“I did feel a bit rusty. I’d been chomping at the bit to be playing for the past few weeks and I was happy to start. I was looking to be back for the Rangers game here but I probably wasn’t right. I’ve only really been feeling good in the last couple of weeks. But the team has been fine, so there’s no rush to get me back in.
“I was excited to be out there but was lacking a couple of yards, just getting away from players, going on the counter attack. I’m normally confident of knocking it by somebody and getting away from them.
“I didn’t feel sluggish, just that the sharpness wasn’t there because I haven’t played enough.”
If they year ended on a disappointing note, Swanson insisted the emergence of 19-year-old Shaw points to, hopefully, an even brighter 2018. The young striker, having suffered the bitter disappointed of having his clearly legitimate “goal” against Hearts not given, bounced back to claim his third goal in only his fourth Premiership start.
He said: “When I came in I thought Oli was just a young boy. He’s come on so much since I signed. At the start of the season I would never have seen him being such a big player for us. But the improvement I’ve seen has been excellent, he’s added so much to his game. He is playing against big defenders and, yes, he struggles at times. That’s to be expected but he just wants to score goals.
“I played with David Goodwillie at Dundee United and he was exactly the same, just wanted to score goals. That’s the guy you need in your team. Even if he is having a bad day, he’ll get a chance. And take it.”
And veteran hitman Boyd was unstinting in his praise of the Hibs kid.“He’s a bright prospect,” said the 34-year-old. “You saw how sharp he was reacting in the box. Hibs could be on to a good thing there.”
And Boyd knows what it takes having scored more than 200 top-flight goals in a career which has spanned three spells at Rugby Park, two at Rangers, and one at Middlesbrough, as well as Turkey and the United States in addition to winning 18 Scotland caps.