Daryl Horgan believes new manager Paul Heckingbottom has quickly implemented a system that is getting the best out of several key Hibs players.
The Easter Road side struggled to generate any continuity in terms of team selection and formation under Neil Lennon in the first half of the season. But Heckingbottom has selected the same starting lineup for both of his matches in charge and deployed the team in a 4-4-2 formation, with the wide players – Horgan and Stevie Mallan – given freedom to drift inside, ahead of central midfielders Mark Milligan and Vykintas Slivka and in support of strikers Marc McNulty and Florian Kamberi.
Horgan, who found himself deployed in a central role on occasions in the first half of the season, has started both of the victories over Hamilton Accies and Dundee under Heckingbottom and is enjoying the new manager’s approach.
“We’ve all kind of played well, as a team, and the position he’s put me in, I enjoy playing,” said Horgan, whose cross set up McNulty’s first goal at Dens Park on Friday. “It’s starting left and drifting a bit, which seems to suit. The way we’ve played helps, with bodies in the box for crosses, set up to counter.”
Horgan told the Evening News before Christmas that he felt he needed to become more consistent in order to be a success at Hibs and, with five goals and nine assists to his name now, he believes he is gradually getting closer to the level he wants to be at.
“I think I’m getting there,” he said. “There is obviously room for improvement in a lot of aspects of my game, but that will come down the line. I’m enjoying it so far. If I can keep playing, keep chalking up goals and assists – it’s all stats now, isn’t it? – then I will be more consistent. I’m not big on reading up on stats, to be honest. I just play as well as I can. Maybe come the end of the season I’ll look at it. But I focus more on how I play in the game.”
In terms of trying to win over Heckingbottom when he took the reins a fortnight ago, Horgan had something of a head-start over his team-mates as the manager revealed recently that he tried to sign him for Barnsley when he was catching the eye for Dundalk in the League of Ireland, only to lose out as the winger signed for Preston North End. However, Horgan fell out of favour at Deepdale, paving the way for a summer move to Easter Road where he now has his one-time suitor as his boss.
The 26-year-old said: “I think there was something in that, the manager trying to sign me for Barnsley. But at the time it was just the way it went and I ended up at Preston. It was the right move at the time but, unfortunately, we then had a change of manager.
“I suppose it shows that the manager did like me. Hopefully he still does. Maybe is it good for me, but football changes so much. He may have seen something he liked, but that might have changed, so I still have to prove myself, that I’m good enough and able to fit into the new system.”
Hibs were five points beneath St Johnstone when Heckingbottom took over, but the travel to Perth tonight aiming to move three points clear of Tommy Wright’s off-form team after nudging them out of the Premiership’s top six on goal difference last weekend.
“I wouldn’t say it is a defining game in the season,” insisted Horgan. “There are still more than enough games to get into the top six, even if this one doesn’t go the way we want it to. But if we could win and put a few points between us, that would be fantastic.”