Defensive disruption, Porteous absence, blunt attack - examining the factors behind Hibs' Dundee United defeat
Hibs don't often lose 3-0 at home. In fact, Saturday’s defeat by Dundee United was just the fourth time since the start of the 2015/16 season that they have lost by that margin at Easter Road.
Jack Ross said after the game that the early part of this week would be spent working out the answers as to why his side had been “lazy, slow, and selfish… the worst version of ourselves.”
The Capital club hasn’t become a bad team overnight, so what might be behind Saturday’s performance and result?
Most fans were expecting Hibs to make one change in defence, with Darren McGregor or Nathan Wood coming in for the suspended Ryan Porteous. Middlesbrough loanee Wood got the nod but surprisingly Paul McGinn also missed out, with Chris Cadden deputising at right-back.
Everyone knows the value of a settled defence and so it was perhaps little surprise that all three Dundee United goals, and at least one of their attempts on goal, originated on Hibs’ right side where there was a previously untested duo in Cadden and Wood.
Whisper it, but Paul Hanlon might need Ryan Porteous alongside him more than Porteous needs the club captain. This isn’t a comment on individuals but rather how effective they are together as a pairing, especially this season since the younger defender has improved his all-round game.
Hanlon arguably doesn’t get the credit he deserves when playing well but Porteous’ absence was keenly felt on Saturday. Would he have made a difference in the defending of the second United goal, for instance? Hard to say but when Porteous is in either box, the opposition tends to know about it.
Ross has to make a call on who to start at Pittodrie in his backline. Porteous remains out but McGinn could return – and might there be a start for McGregor? The veteran centre-back strolled the game in May when Hibs won 1-0 to seal third spot last season and may be called upon once more depending on the coaching staff’s thoughts going into the game. While it’s far too early to brand games “must-win” at this stage – aside from the obvious point that winning matches is pretty crucial in football – Hibs could really do with three points against the Dons to get things back on track. McGregor’s presence in the matchday squad alone should help, but we’ve all seen the impact he can have on the pitch.
Jake Doyle-Hayes and Joe Newell both have their strengths and prior to the Dundee United match had dovetailed well. However, neither of them managed to exert their influence against the Terrors. Just ahead of them playmaker Scott Allan was having similar luck, or lack of.
It is noticeable that the intensity in the middle of the park that was present at the start of the season has ebbed away since Kyle Magennis has been out of the team. “Ginto” has a chance of returning to action this weekend and his influence could rub off on his fellow midfielders.
Alex Gogic can probably count himself unfortunate not to feature off the bench at the weekend. The Cypriot internationalist hasn’t featured much so far this campaign but he might have helped Hibs compete more in the middle of the park against Tam Courts’ side had he been brought into action.
Kevin Nisbet needs help in attack. It is no coincidence that he notched so many goals last season playing in a front-two alongside either Martin Boyle or Christian Doidge. He lacks the aerial prowess needed to successfully operate as a target man (see Doidge) and while he has worked hard in the lone frontman role, he was on the periphery for large parts of the United defeat.
He saw one shot towards the end tipped onto the post and sent a glancing header wide earlier in the second half. Even the presence of James Scott, on for Scott Allan at the interval, couldn’t help Hibs in front of goal.
Doidge has a knack for being in the right place at the right time when he plays but Nisbet is a different type of player. The Welshman’s injury means Hibs are currently limited in attacking options, but might Ross look to change things up for the Aberdeen game?
With everyone fit and available Hibs have a strong squad with bench to match. However with a clutch of injuries and suspensions the pool starts to look dangerously thin.
Despite Hibs struggling against United, Ross only made the one change and perhaps he felt that his best available players were already on the park.
It will come as a relief that at least two of those sidelined should be back in contention next week, strengthening not only the starting line-up but the bench, and allowing the coaching staff to shuffle the tactics.
On a related note there have been calls for some of the club’s highly-rated youngsters to get a chance in the first team. The reality is that it is a big step up from the Under-18s to facing senior professionals in a Scottish Premiership clash and while the old adage of “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough" may ring true to a certain extent, fans might have to wait a bit longer before the likes of Josh O’Connor or Connor Young are given a chance in the first team.
While Hibs as a club are no doubt proud to have so many players on international duty – nine players in total from under-16 to senior level – there was an overall air of sluggishness about the side on Saturday. Four starters and the only sub had all been away with Boyle enduring a long-haul flight from Tokyo before returning to East Mains. The travelling can take its toll so another week to recharge the batteries ahead of this weekend could do the international footballers a world of good.