Josh Doig: Hibs 'sophomore slump', recovering from quarantine - but signs of player back to best are now there

In America they call it the “sophomore slump”; in Australia it’s termed "second-year syndrome”.

Josh Doig is looking sharper and more impactful with every passing game
Josh Doig is looking sharper and more impactful with every passing game

Football fans however might know it better as “second season syndrome”, the phrase used to ominously highlight the fact that a player who has enjoyed a sparkling breakout season has struggled to deliver in their follow-up campaign.

When Josh Doig burst onto the scene at the start of the 2020/21 season it was largely out of the blue. Yes, there had been that loan spell at Queen’s Park and glowing recommendations from then manager Ray McKinnon likening the left-back to Andy Robertson.

But we’d heard all that before, hadn’t we? Or was this a different tune?

His starting berth against Kilmarnock in last term's curtain-raiser signalled the start of a new era in the left-back position for Hibs.

No longer was it Lewis Stevenson’s. The torch had been passed at what seemed like the right time.

The Easter Road stalwart has still put in a performance when called upon, serving as a reliable and trustworthy back-up option.

There were times last season when Doig was replaced by Stevenson. Some games called for a more experienced head at the back, other times when Hibs needed to be more defensive, the veteran full-back got the nod over his younger, more attack-minded colleague.

Quarantine and transfer interest

Come the end of last season Doig had played 35 times in all competitions registering a goal and four assists. Not a bad return for his first full campaign as a senior footballer.

We’re barely into December and the teenager has already played 20 games, providing one assist in the 3-0 victory against Ross County in August – his first start in the league.

He might have more appearances if it wasn’t for transfer interest during the summer, and three quarantine stints. Doig contracted Covid-19 during the summer and until recently looked as though he was struggling to reach the levels he so often did last year. While those inside Easter Road and HTC wouldn’t have had any such doubts over the player’s ability to replicate his form from 20/21, there must have been more than a few fans who wondered if Doig would ever again reach the levels he had.

Turns out those worries were unfounded.

Covid and comeback

The effects of coronavirus can vary from person to person. It’s entirely possible that Doig has been more impacted by the virus than others.

But at times against Ross County, and then with more frequency against St Johnstone, the Scotland Under-21 defender looked as close as he has for some time to replicating his debut season form.

At McDiarmid Park, aided by the hosts being a man down, he rampaged up and down the left flank, on one occasion forcing Zander Clark into an instinctive save with his legs to prevent a goal and in the first half sending an effort whistling just wide.

Rangers posed a tougher test but Doig still impressed with his runs down the left as well as looking more adept defensively. Of course there is still room for improvement – Doig would be the first to agree – but there are marked signs of progress from last year at both end of the pitch.

The real test for Doig will be putting in that same level of performance against Motherwell and Livingston. If the left-back is finally shaking off the lingering effects of Covid and ready to contribute at a key time of the season for Hibs, he could scarcely have timed it better.

With Chris Cadden improving in the right wing-back role, the team are a threat down either flank and as a result are not missing Martin Boyle’s presence out wide as he fills in for Christian Doidge in attack.

We’re still barely halfway through the season but if Doig can maintain this level of performance or thereabouts, combined with a natural progression both defensively and going forward, Hibs and the player will reap the benefits.

Inconsistency is still to be expected; at 19 he is the baby of the first team, even if he has made around five times as many senior appearances as Josh Campbell, and played around 15 games more than Jamie Gullan.

He will only get better with more matches, as well as the coaching from Jack Ross, John Potter, and David Gray, plus support and advice from Stevenson and Paul Hanlon.

Team turnaround?

The nature of Hibs’ performance against Rangers in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final was nothing short of extraordinary given the three-week gap between games and the positive Covid-19 cases among the squad. The showing against Ross County was good in parts although it ended unsatisfactorily. In Perth, Hibs looked good across the park for the bulk of the 90 minutes save for losing another goal from a cross-ball.

Against Rangers they were the better side for parts of the encounter and were unlucky not to take something from the game. But there are signs that the team, and the players, are getting back to their best.

Hibs need a performance and result against both Motherwell and Livingston to prove that last season was no one-hit wonder. Ticking both boxes against the Steelmen and again in West Lothian will suggest that Hibs have emerged from the funk that saw them lose five games on the trot.

If the rest of the team is treading the same path as Doig, Hibs should be capable of hauling themselves into the upper echelons of the Scottish Premiership in no time.

Even if they don’t, the youngster’s steady return to the player that won plaudits and the Young Player of the Year award last season could be invaluable for him and the team.

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