Hibs and the factors that might lead to win at Ross County - and those that won't

Hibs head to Ross County on Saturday looking to bring an end to their four-game losing streak – a tall order given the Staggies’ 5-0 midweek win at Dundee.

By Patrick McPartlin
Saturday, 30th October 2021, 6:00 am
Jack Ross will hope his team can turn their form around in Dingwall
Jack Ross will hope his team can turn their form around in Dingwall

Supporters are obviously unhappy with the form of the team and have been calling for different formations and the introduction of some of the club’s highly-rated youngsters, among other requests.

Despite the run of form Hibs are still capable of putting in performances like the second half against Celtic and while the visitors had a two-goal advantage and could perhap afford to sit back a bit, they were still rescued by Joe Hart on two occasions. Had those chances been scored, the game could have panned out differently. Fine margins and all that.

Taking on a team that has just won 5-0 on the road might be a daunting task but Hibs look to be emerging from this slump. The 3-0 home defeat by Dundee United was certainly the nadir but there were fleeting glimpses against Aberdeen, and more in the second half against Celtic, that suggest a turnaround might not be too far away.

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Hibs will be eager to pick up where they left off on Wednesday night and start off on the front foot against the Dingwall outfit. If anything, slow starts have been the biggest crutch for the side in the three defeats since losing 2-1 to Rangers.

Starting on Saturday like they finished in midweek could go a long way to arresting this run of form – and there are a handful of factors that might, and a couple that won’t, have an impact on proceedings.

Why changing the personnel isn’t the (only) answer

Jack Ross made four changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Aberdeen, and four changes again for the line-up picked to face Celtic. Injuries, illness, suspension, and opposition can dictate who gets the nod in certain positions but constantly chopping and changing doesn’t help in terms of a settled team.

Lack of options in certain positions also causes problems – even if Ross wants to rest certain players he is limited in what he can do. This is partly down to the failure to secure certain targets during the summer transfer window, and also rotten luck.

Which formation to use?

Jack Ross has actually made use of several different formations so far this season, making use of 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, 3-5-2, and 3-4-3 in various matches. Of course, the injury to Christian Doidge has meant limited use of two up front, with Martin Boyle partnering Kevin Nisbet on the three occasions Ross has gone two up top, and a lack of out-and-out centre-forwards has led to Nisbet being deployed as a lone striker or three forwards – normally Boyle, Nisbet, and Jamie Murphy – operating as an attacking trio.

So Hibs’ run of poor form has little to do with a lack of changing things. It remains to be seen how Ross will line up his team against County but the smart money would be on a formation with either one or three up front, unless the head coach has a trick up his sleeve.

Missing Magennis

Although the midfielder, by his own admission, failed to reach his best during his debut season at Hibs, he hit the ground running in the summer. He has the same goals and assists figures as Kevin Nisbet, from four fewer games. His energy and dynamism played a big part in Hibs’ strong start to the campaign.

Since the start of the 2021/22 season in all competitions, Hibs have lost just once with Magennis on the park – the 4-1 defeat by HNK Rijeka, in which he scored Hibs' goal. That the four-game losing streak started with the first game the former St Mirren man missed is no coincidence.

The Easter Road side just haven’t been the same without his presence in the middle-to-front areas and none of those tried in the number ten role have been able to replicate his industry and goal threat – yet.

Why Ross won’t pitch in U18 stars

The likes of Josh O’Connor and Connor Young have been banging in the goals for the Under-18s, prompting calls from the fans to give them a chance in the first team but there is a big step up in quality between the Under-18s and the Scottish Premiership. There have been instances before at clubs including Hibs in which players have been thrown in to the first team at a young age but fail to kick on.

While there is no doubting the potential shown by the Under-18s against players of their own age, football has moved on from the “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough” approach. Only a handful of Eddie May and Gareth Evans’ players have had first-team exposure through training stints or pre-season friendlies. Jack Ross has also watched the Under-18s on several occasions, along with John Potter and David Gray.

If they were ready for first-team football, they would have been given a chance already. Hibs are highly unlikely to risk hampering a young prospect’s growth in the faint hope they might succeed where the first-team forwards haven’t.

The fringe men with a point to prove

Jamie Gullan is the obvious candidate here. The forward has gone from virtually out-of-favour to a starting slot against the Dons. He entered the fray as a substitute against Celtic and will almost certainly get gametime at the Global Energy Stadium.

Josh Campbell will also hope that his 45-minute appearance against Celtic, that coincided with an upturn in the Hibs performance, could put him in the reckoning for a start in the Highlands. It would be a big ask but could he be the answer in the number ten role?

Drey Wright is another who has featured sporadically in recent weeks but nevertheless has been called upon. It’s fair to say the former St Johnstone man hasn’t had the happiest of times at Easter Road following his move but his energy could be useful against the Staggies and he may be handed more minutes depending on how things pan out.

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