Fantastic four carry new threat for Hibs - John Greechan’s Tactics Zone
John Greechan takes an in-depth tactical look at Hibs after their 2-0 win over St Johnstone and ahead of facing St Mirren
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They’re still a work in progress. But it’s already clear that anything Hibs achieve under Nick Montgomery is going to be built on a free-moving, free-thinking and fluid front four.
A coach who asks his attacking players to think of their starting positions as just that, Montgomery’s master plan became a little more obvious in his second game at the helm.
And a couple of themes emerged over the course of a home debut that saw Hibs run out 2-0 winners.
From the rampaging runs of a right back who understands the modern need for fullbacks to be more than just decent defenders who put in the occasional tempting cross, to the vertical movement of a strike pairing who know how to tempt opponents into uncomfortable areas, there was plenty to digest.
Montgomery has always liked his wingers to be capable of coming infield. It’s why he started Martin Boyle on the left and Jair Tavares on the right against St Johnstone.
With centre forwards Dylan Vente and Adam Le Fondre given licence to roam, the end result should be chances like the one illustrated in Photo 1, a snapshot taken just before Vente pulled the ball back for Boyle to have a crack at goal. Movement, movement, movement. That’s what kills defences.
Boyle is too good a player, obviously, to leave stuck out on the wing in the hope of seeing some action. Capable of playing through the middle or on the last shoulder, Photo 2 shows his eye for space in that danger zone between the opposition defence and midfield.
In theory, he’s surrounded by St Johnstone players. In practice, he’s initiated the line break that sees Le Fondre draw a foul - winning the free-kick that led to the opening goal.
Miller’s performance was notable for more than just opening the scoring – and his Hibs account – with a nicely-timed run and a fine header.
However annoyed some may be when the term “inverted fullback” is used – or misused – in trying to describe a fairly simple concept, the Aussie certainly fits the identikit.
Look at Photo 3 and you’ll see how, with a bit of confidence and ability on the ball, Miller and Boyle have already taken three Saints players out of the game. And are about to eliminate a fourth.
Boyle’s shift to the right wing, and his understanding that starting way out on the touchline would generate space inside, gave Miller plenty of opportunities to stride into the gap (Photo 4).
In terms of keeping and using possession well, Saturday was a step up for Hibs. They really dominatedwhen it came to finding team-mates in dangerous areas.
Their overall pass completion rate of just over 85 per cent was complemented by their score in what Wyscout call “progressive passes” – longer attempts that break opposition lines and carry a team at least 30 yards closer to goal.
With just under 82 per cent of those passes completed, Hibs are clearly a side developing a greater understanding of where and how to gain entry into the final third.
And what makes it easier to find a team-mate? Playing just a little closer together. Even if that means overloading one side of the pitch.
Photo 5, taken just before Le Fondre’s sublime little flick around the corner for Vente to make it 2-0, shows how Elie Youan – on for a tiring Tavares – has drifted all the way over from the left wing, putting the entire front four on the right side of the pitch and overloading Saints.
There were other elements of the game that stood out, from the continued patience being shown in playing out from the back – easier when central defenders are capable of driving beyond the first line and picking a pass – to, as a byproduct of that, goalkeeper David Marshall’s increasing confidence with the ball at feet.
Defensively, Hibs remain susceptible to the counter, with central midfielders Joe Newell and Jimmy Jeggo asked to cover a lot of ground. A lot.
Wednesday night’s Viaplay Cup quarter-final at home to St Mirren will represent a much sterner test than the Perth Saints could muster.
But it’s going to be interesting to see how the high-flying Buddies cope with a Hibs front four really beginning to click.
John Greechan is a UEFA-qualified coach with a Certificate in Advance Tactical Analysis from Barca Innovation Hub Universitas.