Comment: Why Joe Newell could yet emerge as Hibs’ main man in the middle
After a frustrating start to his Easter Road career, Englishman showed his qualities in fightback against Hamilton
At a time when Hibs fans are craving new signings, Joe Newell offered a timely indication that he might be capable of coming in from the periphery and making a notable impact in the remainder of this season.
Manager Jack Ross has made no secret in recent weeks of the fact he would like to add one or two extra options to central midfield in the current transfer window. Stevie Mallan’s injury intensified the need for reinforcements at a time when the out-of-favour Josh Vela was being primed for a move to Shrewsbury Town, and Stephane Omeonga duly arrived last week to fill a void.
On the night when the on-loan Genoa player was given his second Hibs debut, Ross would have been disappointed that the Belgian’s reintroduction to Easter Road coincided with poor performances from three of his other midfielders. Melker Hallberg, Vykintas Slivka and Scott Allan were all substituted within the opening 53 minutes following a grim first half against Hamilton Accies in which they all struggled. Any exasperation for Ross at the sight of his middle men falling short in the team’s first league match of 2020, however, could be offset by the performances of those he sent on in their place - Newell, Stephane Omeonga and Daryl Horgan.
While there was an element of expectation on the shoulders of Omeonga and Horgan to make some kind of impact following their previous exploits in green and white, the same probably couldn’t be said of Newell who has generally flattered to deceive since arriving at Hibs last summer. After a difficult start to the season, the former Rotherham United player had a promising spell in the immediate aftermath of Paul Heckingbottom’s departure when he started four consecutive games in November but he hasn’t started any of the last eight games since a minor injury ruled him out of the defeat at Ross County at the start of December.
The Englishman was introduced at the start of the second half last night and delivered a 45-minute performance with intensity, purpose and a level of quality that had generally been missing from the likes of Slivka and Hallberg in the first half. After Horgan replaced Allan and the team switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 in the 53rd minute, Newell was effectively deployed as the central midfield playmaker, with Omeonga sitting slightly deeper.
The 26-year-old seemed to revel in the responsibility he had been given to try and turn the match around and his quick and intelligent passing played a big part in Hibs seizing the initiative after the break. He capped a good display with a lovely piece of skill wide on the right in the closing stages of the game, ensuring Hibs supporters were able to go home buoyed by a belief that the hitherto underwhelming summer signing could yet ignite at Easter Road.
While it was ultimately only an encouraging 45-minute outing at home to one of the league’s weaker sides, Newell is entitled to feel he has done enough to merit a return to the starting lineup for Saturday’s game away to Motherwell, particularly in light of the poor displays of those who were subbed at the break.
Ross’s priorities at present are to bolster his attack and his defence, but there is certainly a feeling among Hibs’ support that more quality is also required in the engine room. If Newell proves himself equipped to step in and handle what promises to be a tough test against one of the strongest midfields in the country at Fir Park this weekend, it would certainly reduce the need for Hibs to add another new midfielder in the present transfer window.