Breaking down the Dark Blues block - talking points from Hibs victory
Getting 1500 football fans to agree on anything – man of the match, choice of pre-game pint, even the wisdom of wearing ankle socks and trousers cut off at the shins on a day that might have prompted polar bears to pull on a parka – is about as straightforward as figuring out the mathematics involved in last week’s great “we’ve only made three mistakes all season” briefing on VAR. So don’t expect the Hibs punters who travelled to Dundee for yesterday’s game at Dens, in itself a show of strength and an expression of faith, to achieve unanimity on all the finer points of a fascinating 90 minutes.
Some still get the ick every time Nick Montgomery’s team decide to play out from the back. Yes, even at the start of moves that end in a goal for the Hibees, as one of those classic bait-and-switch ploys did for the opener on Tayside.
Others will be frustrated to see their favourites warming the bench. And let’s not even get into the heated debate about priorities in the January transfer window.
But everyone is surely of the same mind when it comes to measuring the value of three points claimed in difficult circumstances. This was an important win. For all sorts of reasons …
Breaking the block
When out of possession, which they were for most of the game until Lewis Miller’s red card gave them a numerical advantage, Dundee effectively played in a 5-3-2. Their strategy is to sit deep, wait for the right moment to pressure the ball and be horrifically difficult to break down; they’d kept five clean sheets in their previous six league games heading into this one.
Montgomery was one of the opposition managers left frustrated, indeed, after seeing his team batter the Dundee goal only to draw 0-0 at Easter Road back in September. And he began plotting a way round the dark blue Maginot Line so carefully constructed by Tony Docherty.
Having really struggled to cope with Dundee’s wingbacks at home, Monty actively plotted to victimise the wide men in the return fixture, dragging them out of position and exploiting the space in behind. And it worked.
Martin Boyle definitely seemed to start the game on right wing, with Josh Campbell deployed as centre forward. But not for long, as the players switched starting positions in a very fluid “front four” that also included striker Dylan Vente and Jair Tavares.
It was a smart move, using Campbell’s physicality and nous to shut down one side of the Dundee attack, while giving defenders decisions to make about who to pick up. See? It’s not always about “who wants it more …”
There’s only one Jair Tavares
Who couldn’t be happy to see the Portuguese winger leading the post-game celebrations? He was the first to run towards the away end at Dens, raising his fists skywards and letting out a primal scream of joyful delight.
Tavares took a brave step in the build-up to this game, talking openly about the psychological effects of being frozen out of the first team by Lee Johnson. His courage was universally applauded.
But he still had to go out and perform. Monty’s decision to give Tavares a second chance, returning him to the first team on day one of his tenure as Hibs boss, wouldn’t have looked half as clever if the former Benfica prospect had flopped.
Not quite the finished article, Jair’s pace and trickery were a joy to watch at times in this game. And his goal was delightful. Almost as good as his post-match love-in with supporters.
Lewis Miller is an interesting bunch of characters
Every time someone starts praising the Australian right back, Montgomery almost feels compelled to step in with an attempt to cool the adulation and expectations surrounding a player he knows extremely well. Almost as if the gaffer, who coached him in the Central Coast academy, is worried that Miller will get carried away.
The new Socceroos recruit was naïve, at best, in picking up his first booking yesterday. Once you’re on the ref’s list, well, every tackle is a gamble.
Outwardly engaging and humble, clearly a player of potential, the hope is that Miller – who has often referred to Montgomery as a father figure – learns his lesson. Or his footballing dad will have a few things to say on the subject.