After 11 games in charge, Monty's ideal Hibs starting XI - plus impact subs - taking shape
Surprise packages and steady performers give gaffer food for thought
Some have lived up to all expectations. Others have delivered a pleasant surprise to a new gaffer whose background knowledge and copious homework still wouldn’t have provided a full picture of every fully rounded individual on the premises.
Another international break provides more than just some much-needed breathing space for Hibs boss Nick Montgomery, his coaching staff and players left looking more than a little wabbit by the end of Saturday’s grimly efficient 1-0 win over Kilmarnock.
It also gives everyone an opportunity to consider the fluctuating fortunes – the winners and losers so far, in crude terms – of the footballers pressed into frontline service by Monty.
In his 11 games at the helm, he’s made some bold calls. Changed things when they’ve needed changed. Organised plenty of bounce games to make sure everyone has been given a chance.
And, with one eye already firmly fixed on the January transfer window, it’s clear that he’s closer to making up his mind on guys who fall into a few different categories.
Feeling pretty good about themselves …
In the history of great comebacks from hopeless situations, Lazarus himself has nothing on the indefatigable Tavares.
So far out in the cold that he should have been turning up for training at East Mains wearing one of those North Sea survival suits, the Portuguese winger’s decline under Lee Johnson was as baffling as it was disappointing.
Johnson, after all, had hailed the arrival of Tavares from Benfica in June 2022 as a “coup”. Less than a year on, the head coach was openly talking about getting rid of the wide man.
After just a couple of training sessions, however, Montgomery restored the 22-year-old to the first team, giving him a run out as a sub in his first game as gaffer, a 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
He’s started the last five games for Hibs. If absences have played a part in selections, Tavares has seized his chance.
After over 20 years as a senior professional, it can’t have been easy for Marshall to suddenly learn a whole new style of play, with Montgomery’s belief in building from the back inviting the former Scotland goalie to become much more of an all-rounder.
There are old-fashioned elements of the support who get extremely nervous when the veteran has the ball at feet. Scratch the surface of their anxiety, though, and you might find they’re just uncomfortable with the whole idea of goalkeepers “pretending to be footballers …”
Montgomery already had a high opinion of the midfielder. Then he made him skipper and asked him to do more.
In all honesty, you could give Newell Man of the Match honours just about every time he suits up for Hibs.
Facing a challenge
The club captain has started under Montgomery – and also been used as a late substitute in order to give Rocky Bushiri a rest.
At the age of 33, Hanlon is still fit enough and fast enough to do a job. But it looks as if he’s in the No.3 spot for a coach whose 4-4-2 only has room for two central defenders.
Nobody would ever suggest that Stevenson is done. He could be five years retired and you’d still expect him to pop up in a squad, just to help out.
A very late sub in Saturday’s win over Killie, it’s obvious that the 35-year-old fullback has a part to play, not least in providing the kind of help and advice that turned Josh Doig into a superstar. But he’s not likely to start many games, going forward.
The young team
Rory Whittaker has rightly taken a lot of the focus, with the right back becoming the youngest debutant in club history when he came off the bench – aged 16 years and 44 days – in the 2-0 win over St Johnstone.
But Whittaker’s promotion from the youth ranks clearly isn’t intended to be a one-off under Montgomery.
Josh Landers, who played for the Under-18s at 14 and feature in the UEFA Youth League not long after his 15th birthday, has also been handed a debut and, like Whittaker, now has a long-term pro contract to show for his efforts.
With 17-year-old Rudi Molotnikov included in a couple of match day squads under Montgomery, there is a clear trend towards youth, with academy coaches at East Mains predicting a new wave of young talent just waiting to break through.
Waiting in the wings
Montgomery can’t wait to get injured players like Chris Cadden and Jake Doyle-Hayes back in contention. And he’s spoken extremely warmly about Harry McKirdy, still recovering from heart surgery.
There will be recruitment in January. But the recent re-emergence of someone like Josh Campbell, a scorer in back-to-back games after being forced to wait for his chance, shows that the gaffer isn’t shutting any doors on potential starters or impact subs.