Hibs: 5 defensive midfield targets who could solve the problem area at Easter Road, including Celtic outcast, ex-Premiership star, former Ajax ace

Hibs are in need of midfield reinforcements, even more so after Stevie Mallan's injury

Friday, 17th January 2020, 11:40 am
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 12:20 pm

Coming into the January transfer window a defensive midfielder will have been on many a Hibs fan's wish list, something which manager Jack Ross himself acknowledged following the 3-0 win over Aberdeen in December.

While appreciative of the qualities of Melker Hallberg and his ability to develop in the role, he noted it wasn't the Swede's strongest position in the midfield.

It has been a problem area going back to the summer when Paul Heckingbottom allowed Marvin Bartley and Mark Milligan to depart.

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Youssouf Mulumbu is a free agent having left Kilmarnock for the second time in the summer. Picture: SNS

That has been shown in the stats. Despite the team sitting sixth in the league, only Hamilton have conceded more than the 311 shots Hibs have allowed and only Ross County have a worse defensive duel success rate.

Hibs could also be described as 'stand-offish' with Aberdeen the only team in the league to average fewer duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opposition possession. It simply means that the Easter Road side's opponents get a bit more of an easy time when they have the ball.

In contrast, Livingston score highly in such areas with Bartley patrolling the Livi midfield.

The need for a reinforcement became even more pressing with the news Stevie Mallan is set to sit out the next two months, which could mean upwards of 11 games depending on his rehab and how Hibs progress in the Scottish Cup.

Eboue Kouassi is not in Neil Lennon's plans at Celtic. Picture: SNS

Hallberg could step into his role in the midfield diamond, but who could Jack Ross target to solve the defensive midfielder situation?

Eboue Kouassi

“Eboue’s one who is brilliant in training, he does everything and, longer term, he will certainly fulfil that role when Scott [Brown] moves on," said former Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers.

The club paid Krasnodar £2.8million for the Ivorian when he was just 19. He had played just 19 times for the Russian side but was clearly seen as the man to step into the Celtic midfield when former Hibs ace Brown retired, departed or eased out the team.

Alex Gogic has probably been Hamilton best player this season. Picture: SNS

Kouassi has played just 22 times since signing in 2017 and has not even made a squad under Neil Lennon, not helped by a cruciate ligament injury last season.

Rodgers, not averse to bluster, put Kouassi in the same bracket as Philippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling when comparing them at a young age. When outlining his qualities, however, you can see what he could possibly add to the HIbs midfield.

“He covers the ground, the speed in the tackle, the aggression, the intensity to sit, block and fight," said the Leicester City boss. "He has that talent to pass the ball, which is very important."

Still only 22, a loan deal would likely suit all parties as he looks to find his feet once more.

Vurnon Anita is a free agent. Has played more than 150 games for both Ajax and Newcastle. Picture: Getty

Alex Gogic

If Hibs are keen on an out-and-out defensive midfielder, someone who will come in and put out fires, then the Hamilton star is the man for Jack Ross.

The Cypriot has arguably been Accies star performer this campaign after a couple of seasons being moved around the pitch, playing in both defence and midfield. But it is the protection role in front of the defensive unit which brings out his best qualities.

In the Scottish Premiership this season, no player has been involved in more defensive duels or made more interceptions than the 25-year-old, while he is one of only two midfielders to be in the top ten for shots blocked - the other being Bartley.

Gogic, who is out of contract at the end of the season, would provide that defensive platform, that no-nonsense approach.

That being said, he would be an unfashionable signing. For a midfielder he has his limitations on the ball so would unlikely contribute hugely to a possession-based game.

Tom James played in midfield for Yeovil last season. Picture: SNS

Youssouf Mulumbu

The ex-Celtic and Kilmarnock star's name has been bandied about as a potential recruit with him being a free agent since leaving Killie for the second time in the summer.

It should come with a pinch of salt. The player, who was so influential at Rugby Park that it led to a move to Celtic, carried out a more advanced role and became a key creative outlet under Steve Clarke during his two spells in Ayrshire.

Mulumbu did, however, play most of his career prior to the switch to Scotland in a more defensive role, prominently at West Brom. There is no doubt he could fulfil the needs of the team, but it would not be getting the best out of him.

That being said, he has the mobility, the vision, the experience, tenacity and passing qualities to thrive in just about every role in Jack Ross' diamond.

Vurnon Anita

The three-time cap for the Netherlands screams 'deal until the end of the season'. Anita has been a free agent since leaving Leeds United in September, therefore is available, albeit questions marks would understandably be raised about his level of fitness.

The 30-year-old came through the Ajax youth system so is well versed in playing tactical, technical football. He has played more than 150 times for both the Dutch giants and Newcastle United so would arrive with huge amounts of experience and a big reputation.

He isn't the touch tackling type, but is someone who will cover ground quickly, take the ball off the defence and keep hold of it.

Tom James

While not the most exciting or 'sexiest' choice during the January transfer window, James could provide an in-house solution.

After a relatively promising start to his Hibs career,despite an early ankle injury, where he showed plenty of composure, technical skill and a willingness to attack from right-back, the Betfred Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic stopped any sort of progress.

He was tormented at Hampden Park in the 5-2 defeat and has not been seen on the pitch since.

Before his arrival some Yeovil Town fans thought he would thrive in a midfield role, a position he played in a handful of times last season for the Glovers.