5 talking points from Hibs' friendly with Raith Rovers as Aiden McGeady returns to action ahead of Rangers trip
An early goal from midfielder Josh Campbell that squirmed through Raith ‘keeper Andy McNeil was the difference as the hosts recorded a 1-0 win on a frosty pitch after the morning’s brief flurry of snow.
Harry McKirdy looked sharp in the first period, firing just wide and missing a Chris Cadden cutback by inches, but he looked more involved when he was moved centrally from his starting role on the flank. Cadden rifled an effort over the bar from what looked like a training-ground routine from a Joe Newell corner but Hibs didn’t really look like scoring after Campbell’s fortuitous opener.
Nine changes were made at the break, with Jair Tavares looking lively on the left flank. The winger threw in a couple of inviting crosses but there were no takers in the box. McKirdy had another half-chance when he might have passed to Kevin Nisbet before the pair were replaced. Demi Mitchell and Elias Melkersen both had half-chances and Raith had a few sights of goal with John Fredriksen heading straight at Kevin Dąbrowski and Brad Spencer, Quinn Coulson, and Kyle Connell all shooting wide for the visitors.
It might have just been a friendly, and the final 30 minutes, but Aiden McGeady will have been relieved to have finally returned to playing after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an injury picked up during Hibs’ final pre-season friendly against Norwich on July 24. The 36-year-old was given something of a free role in the middle of the park with Jair Tavares and Demi Mitchell on either flank. He got a shot away shortly after coming onto the pitch and looked lively in his half-hour cameo.
Lee Johnson will be hoping that the veteran attacker can help solve Hibs’ issues in the final third. Supply has been one of the lingering problems for the Easter Road side, especially with the absence of Martin Boyle, and McGeady could contribute with goals and assists – but match sharpness will likely mean a staggered return to action for the wideman.
Fringe players catch the eye
Jair Tavares, dubbed a longer-term prospect by Johnson, looked bright in his substitute appearance against Middlesbrough and he caught the eye in this match as well. On a couple of occasions he did well to beat his man and fling a cross in but frustratingly for the Portuguese winger, there were no takers. He did the defensive side well too, and won the ball back on a couple of occasions when the odds might have been on the Raith player to beat the former Benfica youngster.
Tavares looks to have benefited from two lengthy appearances in the two friendlies and while he might not be under consideration as a starter, he has something to offer and if he continues to get regular gametime then he should begin adding goal contributions to his game.
Will Fish, who won’t be getting recalled by Manchester United before the end of his loan contrary to reports earlier this week, put in another assured display at centre-half in the opening 45, partnering Rocky Bushiri at the heart of defence. It remains to be seen what combination Johnson goes with for the return of cinch Premiership games but Fish has done his chances of starting no harm over the break.
Same problems in attack
A good few chances created, but only one goal scored, and not from the foot (or head) of a striker. There was an element of good fortune to Campbell’s goal but McKirdy might have had one or two goals in his hour on the pitch while better decision-making from Melkersen might have given him a chance from a Tavares cross, when he ran to the front post instead of the back.
Perhaps McGeady and Magennis can help with supplying the strikers but the only fit forward to have scored recently who isn’t Mykola Kukharevych was Élie Youan in the 6-1 defeat by Celtic – with Martin Boyle providing the assist.
Ewan Henderson, often considered – and utilised as – a playmaker, came on at half-time, initially in a more attacking role, but ended the game playing as one of two sixes alongside fellow substitute Nohan Kenneh.
The former Celtic youngster performed well in a slightly unorthodox role and could give Johnson another option in those defensive midfield positions. Hibs could do with a player capable of picking the ball up from deep and driving forward – is Henderson the man for the job?
Strongest starting XI?
Hibs travel to Rangers on Thursday December 15 with more than a few players available after injury. Nisbet is the obvious example while Aiden McGeady might also see some action at Ibrox, and Kyle Magennis will be eyeing a starting berth as well. But with four centre-backs vying for two places unless a 352 is preferred, some tough decisions will have to be made – and a lot depends on whether Kukharevych is fit.
The Ukrainian has started every game since joining the club but may be a doubt for the first game back. Nisbet and McKirdy have played as a partnership in both friendly matches but have we had any clues to a preferred line-up from Johnson?
David Marshall obviously starts in goal, and the manager has hinted at starting Nisbet. Could Lewis Stevenson have wrestled back the left-back berth from Marijan Čabraja? Who joins Magennis in midfield?
In some ways, being almost spoiled for choice will be a bit of a new feeling for Johnson but one he will relish given the catalogue of injuries with which he has had to contend since arriving. But he does need a team capable of taking the game to Rangers and starting to overhaul the woeful run of form that marred the lead-up to the mid-season break.