David Marshall welcoming competition for Hibs No.1 spot as he compares this pre-season with last year
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Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of movement on the recruitment front. Some big players had to be replaced while others moved on. But just a few short weeks later Hibs had been dumped out of the League Cup at the group stages in the most unceremonious of fashions; a penalty shoot-out defeat after a 1-1 draw with Greenock Morton rendered null and void, the result recorded as a 3-0 win for the Cappielow side after a paperwork blunder saw the suspended Rocky Bushiri selected.
This summer has been slightly less hectic, although ironically Bushiri is again facing another suspension (but not until the first two games of the league season) following his red card in the aftermath of the fiery Edinburgh derby on the last day of the 2022/23 campaign – and it will be hard for that to be overlooked given the nature of the game and post-match rammy.
Captain David Marshall, who was one of the first new faces through the door, has appreciated the more laidback approach this summer.
"You know what the first few days are going to be like, it is going to be tough and it has been. It’s good, we’ve made a few signings so things have been exciting. It’s good to get the new boys in so early, we’ve had some players that left as well and obviously Kevin [Nisbet] and Kyle [Magennis] left so we needed some numbers. You would think that what we’ve added is a bit of quality as well. At the start of last season when the new manager came in there was a lot going on with the club in terms of chopping and changing so hopefully it's a bit more settled and hopefully that gives us a good base to go into the European qualifiers.”
Before those Europa Conference League games, Hibs will hope to gel further with friendly matches against Europa FC of Gibraltar and English Premier League side Bournemouth in Spain during their Marbella training camp, and at home against Dutch side Groningen. Hibs recovered from losing two first-half goals to defeat near neighbours Edinburgh City in their first pre-season encounter last weekend, and Marshall is hopeful that the squad can continue that form.
“You always hope you start the season well; we didn’t last year and looking back that’s maybe understandable with the changes in players and manager. It’s good to get business done early, it’s no good for the manager to be doing stuff last minute and lads leaving. We’d like to think we’re in a better place, we don’t have the league cup because we qualified for Europe but hopefully when that comes around on the 27th, we’re spot on.”
Hibs did make a late charge for third, and eventually fourth, falling just short on the final day as that tempestuous 1-1 draw at Tynecastle confirmed fourth place for Hearts but only by a couple of points and given the rollercoaster ride of the previous nine months, to be challenging for fourth on the final day represented at least some progress. Despite that, Marshall admits that there was disappointment with how things had gone last season.
“We weren’t far away, Aberdeen won seven games on the spin and I think they almost doubled their points tally in those seven games. It shows you how tight the league is. We were disappointed at times last season, the start was quite poor, there were periods in the season we should have done better but we finished fifth and really close to fourth so there is room for improvement. I think we have improved as a squad and I think there will be some other new faces joining before the window closes.”
Adam Le Fondre has already arrived to bolster Lee Johnson’s attacking options but there will be further additions in the final third, although a return for Ukrainian forward Mykola Kukharevych is looking increasingly unlikely. While Nisbet’s contributions will be hard to replace, Marshall believes his departure offers another player the chance to step up.
“When he came back he barely missed a game and coming back from the injury that was great. Goals are obviously what he brings and he has that threat but in terms of his all-round play he is an important player. The club have acted by signing a striker pretty early and I’m sure there will be others coming in as well. Listen, Nisbet will be a big miss, it will be tough but it’s hard to keep players at that level at the club, it’s a big opportunity for him to go to the English Championship. There will always be another player – Martin Boyle is coming back to fitness so he’ll be a big player when he is back.”
Marshall also has new competition for the No.1 spot at Easter Road but insists he is relishing the challenge. The departure of Kevin Dąbrowski at the end of his contract and decision to loan out Murray Johnson, coupled with a requirement for three registered ‘keepers for Europe, saw the arrival in quick succession of Jojo Wollacott and Max Boruc.
“New bodies had to happen. Murray’s on loan at Queen of the South, which is great for him. We’ve signed Max, a young goalkeeper who was on trial last season. He impressed and then Jojo joined last week, it’s been good. You are always going to have two, three, four goalkeepers in the group so of course it is good for competition, it always is. I didn’t come across Jojo down south, but I know some goalie coaches who have worked with him. He seems a good lad.”