Forward-thinking Jack Ross weighs up Hibs' goals as he looks to build on last season with Chris Mueller of Orlando City
Still looking to add to his forward options, with another centre forward high on the shopping list and the accelerated arrival of Chris Mueller something he has been pushing for, Hibs manager Jack Ross is looking for greater cover and heightened competition in the forward areas.
That is despite being blessed with one of the most prolific frontlines in the Premiership last term as his side secured third place and proved themselves regulars in the latter stages of the cup competitions.
Between them, strikers Kevin Nisbet, Christian Doidge and winger Martin Boyle bagged almost a half century of goals. But, with Europe an additional consideration this term - the Easter Road side will take a 3-0 lead out to Andorra for Thursday’s second leg of their Conference League qualifier against Santa Coloma and are favourites to progress to the next round - and fired up by a desire to keep improving domestically, the benefit of even more strength in depth is not lost on Ross.
All clubs are aware of the extra risk of positive covid tests as the world starts to open up again, with Doidge one of those already forced to self-isolate during pre-season.
The business of signing Chris Mueller on a pre-contract is already exciting the Hibs boss and while he is still hoping that the club can negotiate the US forward’s early release from MLS side Orlando City, he is anticipating that even the promise of his arrival should push those currently in possession of the shirts at Hibs.
“We want healthy competition all of the time. Players should always be looking to produce their best but competition always helps to keep them sharp in that respect.
“We have competition in all attacking areas now but we would still like to strengthen further by bringing Chris in as soon as possible and by adding one more to leave us feeling that we have really good options within the squad over the course of the season.”
Hitting the ground running, with both men contributing goals in the opening competitive match, Nisbet and Boyle have taken their summer’s international experiences into the new campaign.
“Kevin has been great. We gave him a little bit of extra time off but since coming back he has looked fit and sharp and confident. His training performances have been really good and he has taken that into the matches and it was good to see him get off the mark so quickly.
“He is in a good place, mentally. He got the right kind of lift and confidence boost from being involved at that level [with Scotland at the Euros] and he understands he needs to push himself to move those levels up yet again but he believes he is good enough to be able to do that.
“Martin has been brilliant for me the whole time I have been at the club. His end product is getting better and better and that is what players at the top levels are judged on and his numbers are brilliant in that respect.
“When he is in the type of form that he has been in throughout the pre-season and then our opening competitive game he can be unplayable. At the moment he is looking really, really sharp and he’s on it and it is good for us to have players who were such a big part of what we did last season already looking in good form and long may that continue.”
Especially, as it can help to draw the best out of newcomers like Dan Mackay, who will be able to use Boyle as a trail guide as he follows what Ross hopes will be a similar career path.
“There are probably similarities, albeit that Dan has come to Hibs at a younger age. But, I think the raw attributes; that pace, the ability to be able to drive at defenders and commit defenders, they are not easy to teach somebody, whereas the other side of the game we can work on.
“But those raw attributes are not easy to find and, in Martin, Dan has someone to learn from. He can look at the improvement in Martin’s game over the years he has been at Hibs, and the way he has continued to get better and better and better every season. That will be the aim for Dan. If he can emulate that then he can become a top player as well.”
While there are more experienced playmakers like Jamie Murphy and Scott Allan, and others on the periphery who can do a job, the blossoming talent of a confident Mackay and the injection of attacking intent of American international Mueller, reduces the burden on Boyle to meet supply and demand when it comes to assists and allows Ross greater flexibility when it comes to playing with line-ups, formations and tactics as they adapt to conditions and the opposition in the pursuit or consistency at the top end of the table..
“We wanted a player who, first of all, who can help in those attacking areas and Chris can play off either side, he can play centrally, and he has attributes which we felt were a good fit for us.
“He is dynamic, he is positive in the final third and he is another player who is getting better and better. His career is on the right trajectory and I must admit that, initially, I didn't really think we would get him but we have worked really hard at it to convince him that this is the best place for him to progress his career and he has bought into that. It is a great signing for us and we are working really hard to get him over as quickly as we can.
“It is an ongoing process but I’d have him here tomorrow because he will be a really good fit, and he will be an exciting player for Hibs.”