Fluid attack putting Hibs on front foot - but can defence cope with Celtic?
Three consecutive league wins for the first time since February. A notable enough achievement for a team who were in something of a crisis when Nick Montgomery took over back in September.
That the Hibs players will have no time to reflect on their achievement, with back-to-back visits to Celtic Park and Livingston forcing them into fast turnover mode out at East Mains, is a minor shame. But it shouldn’t stop us from digging into some of the themes and schemes revealed by yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Aberdeen:
Freedom of movement still applies in Leith
At one point in yesterday’s game, just for a brief spell, Josh Campbell was playing on the left wing, while Dylan Vente was on the right. Leaving Jair Tavares and Martin Boyle to play the role of centre forwards.
Keeping Aberdeen guessing? The ‘front four’ of Hibs had the Aberdeen back five in a spin for much of the game, given their tendency to switch positions, with Tavares seemingly given carte blanche to wander infield in search of space, the ball … or a defender to skin.
Boyle was given similar leeway, popping up on both flanks and through the middle at various stages during the game. There’s a superfluidity about the Hibs attack, when they get things right, that challenges a few conventional laws of physics.
Footballing IQ matters
The further up the ladder you go, the more this game becomes about making decisions. The guys who make the smart choices, under the most intense pressure, are the match winners and game savers.
So, yes, there will always be misgivings about Hibs trying to play so much football in and around their own box, with dangerous turnovers a regular occurrence. When all of the outfielders are making the right moves, however, goalkeeper David Marshall is presented with a sort of multiple-choice problem. One with plenty of right answers.
Take the opening goal against the Dons. If Hibs had been shelling the ball long at every opportunity, there is no way Martin Boyle would have found the space to chase Marshall’s Route 1 delivery into the final third. By drawing Aberdeen towards them and keeping the visitors guessing, they created a crucial gap – leaving the veteran keeper to make the best possible decision.
It took just seven seconds for the ball to go from Marshall’s boot to back of the Aberdeen net. That’s precisely what he was talking about when, in conversation on Friday, he explained that the intention was to “create a kind of counterattack” from a situation where that ought to be impossible.
As head coach Nick Montgomery put it: “We’ve got good players. When they identify opportunities to go long or go short that’s up to them. We work in training. It's not a simple game. You have to see the pictures, make the movements and make the passes - but I thought it was a fantastic first goal.”
Get it in the mixer
Call it a result of conditioning. But there is a breed of supporter cursed with a seemingly insatiable desire to see the ball put into the opposition penalty box.
You know the sort of thing they’re looking for. A decent delivery. Not the worst. Put into a good area. A cross likely to ask questions of the defenders. And extremely unlikely to end with a shot on target, never mind a goal.
Credit to so many Hibs players for not merely taking the easy way out. For refusing to fling in a cross from an unpromising position, with 18 guys fighting for breathing space in between the penalty spot and six-yard box, just to avoid the responsibility of creating an actual scoring chance.
The defence remains a work in progress
One of the defining images of yesterday’s game was the sight of both Aberdeen strikers lying in crumpled heaps inside the Hibs penalty box. That’ll teach them to go up for a high ball against Rocky Bushiri.
But there’s no denying that, as a unit, the back four gave up a lot of chances on the day. With a little more luck, Bojan Miovski might have walked off the Easter Road pitch with a hat-trick.
Wednesday night’s trip to Celtic Park represents a rather tough test for a back line who managed to keep a clean sheet when Brendan Rodgers brought his champions to Leith back in October. Although young Rory Whittaker continues to impress, the return from suspension of Lewis Miller at right back should help.