Hibs 2021/22 season review: File under 'forgettable' as club hits the reset button - again
Interim boss David Gray and the players who have been put in front of the media in recent weeks have all described the 2021/22 season as a ‘rollercoaster’.
In a game rife with clichés this review of the last ten months at least makes sense, although cynics might suggest that the near-vertical drop of the Oblivion ride at Alton Towers would be a better description.
It has felt like a long, long campaign. Even the 3-1 Premier Sports Cup semi-final victory over Rangers seems like a distant memory when in reality it was just six months ago.
There have been plenty of contributory factors: the club’s injury problems; 11 red cards in all campaigns; two different managers and one caretaker boss; the sale of talisman Martin Boyle; the Covid-19 outbreak, and an over-reliance on inexperience and youngsters. We could go on.
For most clubs, reaching the final of one cup and the semis of the other might be seen as a decent return. Indeed, Hibs did likewise last term as well as finishing third.
Finishing eighth with no permanent manager and half the first team out injured was a far cry from the start of the campaign when Hibs, still in Europe, roared back to defeat Motherwell 3-2 at Fir Park in a breathtaking season-opener.
After the relative highs of the 2020/21 campaign, and the fact it was the first season with fans back, the way the season played out was all the more disappointing.
The 3-1 victory over Rangers in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final surely has to be up there. Not just the performance but the fact it came after the Covid-19 outbreak with the team having not played for weeks, too. Martin Boyle was simply unstoppable that day and a strong defensive performance ensured another famous win over the Ibrox side at Hampden.
Apart from that, the away win against Dundee United earlier in the same competition was another sign of what Hibs were capable of when everything clicked. Coincidentally the 3-1 victory over the Terrors in Shaun Maloney’s second match in charge was probably the best performance of his brief tenure.
If only Hibs could have played all their matches at Tannadice.
Aside from individual matches there wasn’t a whole lot to crow about. James Scott’s hat-trick in the final game of the season was a positive for the player after a tough season while first-team debuts for under-18 regulars Murray Aiken, Jacob Blaney, Robbie Hamilton, Oscar MacIntyre, and Josh O’Connor along with development squad player Allan Delferriere were another bright spot.
The performance of the under-18s throughout their season was a positive. They are still on course to win the youth league title but things are up in the air in terms of the season being extended, fixtures being cancelled or rearranged, and uncertainty over other teams’ plans.
The sale of Martin Boyle was possibly the most damaging thing to happen to the side this season. Hibs didn’t necessarily feel like a one-man team prior to his departure but they certainly did once he had left for Al-Faisaly in Saudi Arabia.
Hibs’ attacking options weren’t helped by the long-term injuries suffered by Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet, while it was a big ask to expect the raw Elias Melkersen to carry the can. James Scott came onto a game in the final few matches of the campaign and looked to benefit from an extended run of action. Perhaps doing so sooner might have helped Hibs in the final third.
The club’s disciplinary record will have to be sorted out ahead of next season as well. Eleven red cards in all competitions and more than 100 yellow cards incurred suspensions that hampered Hibs’ efforts on the park – not least Ryan Porteous missing a sizeable chunk of the campaign and sitting out vital games.
On top of that, the club’s handling of the Ian Gordon saga left a lot to be desired and discontent among certain sections of the fanbase regarding his influence rumbles on.
Both transfer windows might have been better – how long have the side needed another centre-forward option? – and the timing of the decision to sack Jack Ross was questionable, so too the decision to rush into the appointment of Shaun Maloney.
Some of the performances certainly belong in this category, not least the league derby defeat at Tynecastle, but it wasn’t quite a campaign to rival the relegation season of 2013/14.
There is also a feeling of greater expectation placed on the team after the highs of last season so negatives maybe
Throughout the last ten months the three managers and countless players have referenced Hibs ‘needing’ to be in the top three or four and reaching the latter stages of, if not winning, a cup. Fans expect that as a minimum, so anything less is viewed as failure.
It is crucial that Hibs learn from the mistakes of this season going into next term – in fact, there is a lot riding on not only the new manager appointment, but backing in the transfer market, season-ticket sales, and much more.
It will be a big summer on and off the park for the Easter Road side. Events on the park this past season may have masked the growing disconnect between the club and a number of fans. The sparse crowd for the final game of the season will have served as a warning and it was surely no coincidence that the club hastily extended the season-ticket deadline to the end of the month the following day.
Twelve months ago Hibs were looking forward to the Scottish Cup final after a first third-place finish in 15 years.
Hibs must get it right this summer to ensure that, in another 12 months’ time, they are once again looking at Europe and a cup final, having secured a more respectable league finish. That has to be the benchmark.