As soon as it became apparent towards the end of last season that they would be likely to lose both Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn, Hibs always appeared destined to emerge from this summer’s transfer window with their squad looking slightly weaker on paper.
These two burgeoning midfielders combined to serve as the fulcrum of one of the best teams in Scotland for the previous three years and, by heading to England within a matter of weeks of each other, they left the Easter Road club with a major problem to solve. While most clubs can usually find a way to cope with the exit of one star man, losing two main men within the same window is a different story altogether, especially when – as is the case with every Scottish club – the resources are not available to sign a like-for-like replacement. Aberdeen had a similar scenario a year previously when they lost their two talismanic wingers Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes in one fell swoop. The Dons muddled through a difficult summer, signed some good attacking replacements on paper, such as Gary Mackay-Steven, Ryan Christie and Greg Stewart and went on to finish second in the Premiership once more, but it was clear that they had lost an edge to their play without McGinn and Hayes simultaneously terrorising opponents. Hibs are likely to go through a similar phase as they adapt to life without their two midfield big-hitters.
On the face of it, the Easter Road club have made a decent fist of trying to come out of the summer transfer window in a robust enough state to try and maintain their progress of recent seasons. By the close of play last Friday night, they had lost four regulars from last season (McGinn, McGeouch, Scott Allan and Brandon Barker) as well as three fringe men (Danny Swanson, Scott Martin and Simon Murray) and a back-up goalkeeper (Cammy Bell). Six new faces have arrived in place of the outgoing eightsome.
Adam Bogdan counts as a straight replacement for Cammy Bell between the sticks, ensuring the goalkeeping department is well stocked for the campaign ahead. Since Martin and Swanson hardly featured for Hibs over the past year, and Murray spent the second half of last season out on loan, the new outfield signings of Stevie Mallan, Mark Milligan, Emerson Hyndman, Daryl Horgan and Thomas Agyepong are effectively the five men charged with replacing the departed quartet of McGinn, McGeouch, Barker and Allan.
While it is widely accepted that Hibs were never going to be able to adequately replace McGinn and McGeouch instantly, the likes of Horgan, Hyndman and Agyepong boast enough pedigree to suggest that, between them, they can fill the voids left by Allan, who impressed in attacking midfield while on loan from Celtic in the second half of the season, and Barker, the on-loan Manchester City winger whose pace and trickery was an asset in the mid-section of last season before he was struck down by injury. Of the new creative trio, Horgan has been particularly impressive since his arrival and the Irishman looks destined to become one of Hibs’ main men this season.
That effectively leaves Mallan and Milligan to replace the irreplaceable. Mallan, who can play anywhere in midfield, boasts no shortage of technique and Hibs’ management will be hoping he can develop into the type of dominant tempo-setting midfielder McGeouch had become by the end of his four years at Hibs. Although he has a bit to go before he gets to McGeouch’s level, the former St Mirren and Barnsley midfielder will bring more of a goal threat to the team than his Sunderland-bound predecessor. Mallan is also capable of playing in the attacking midfield position vacated by Allan and can be similarly fleet-footed on his day. A 33-year-old midfielder is unlikely to be able to bring the level of energy, drive and inspiration that the tireless McGinn offered, but Milligan, a veteran of four World Cups with Australia, is sure to add presence, leadership and assurance to the base of Hibs’ midfield, allowing the likes of Mallan, Horgan and Hyndman to take the game to the opposition.
The departures of Swanson, Murray and Martin will have no effect since they had barely featured recently and were not part of the plans going forward. If the squad looks slightly light in some areas, there are plenty highly-regarded academy graduates like Lewis Allan, Fraser Murray and Sean Mackie, fresh from winning a league and cup double with the development team last season, eager to start making their presence felt in the first team alongside the more established duo of Oli Shaw and Ryan Porteous.
While the departures of McGinn and McGeouch presented obvious challenges for Hibs’ management this summer, they can be heartened by the players they managed to retain. Things would have looked a whole lot bleaker in Leith had any of Jamie Maclaren, Florian Kamberi or Efe Ambrose not remained Hibs players on the first morning of September. Bringing the two strikers, who excelled on loan in the second half of last season, back to Edinburgh was a significant coup for Hibs and ensured there was no need for any further activity in that area of the squad. Martin Boyle, Shaw, Allan and Agyepong are all equipped to deputise in attack while Kamberi and Maclaren feel their way back to form and fitness.
The fending off of deadline-day interest in Ambrose was also crucial as any new recruit would almost certainly have represented a downgrade on the erratic but classy Nigerian, whom Lennon deems a £15,000-a-week defender playing for a fraction of that at Easter Road. Hibs’ defence, which performed so well for most of last season, therefore remains intact and is augmented by the rapidly-improving Porteous. As with most areas of the team, the backline is still to find optimum cohesion in the current campaign. A period of transition, whether it is weeks or months, looks certain at Hibs, but the continued presence of stalwarts like David Gray, Lewis Stevenson, Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor and Marvin Bartley is sure to aid the bedding-in process as the likes of Horgan, Hyndman, Milligan and Mallan try to make the Easter Road support forget about the dearly departed.
THE HIBS SQUAD