Hibs have changed their system - but Christian Doidge explains why it works
Hibs spent a lot of last season flitting between systems that, by in large, allowed manager Jack Ross to deploy both his key strikers in Kevin Nisbet and Doidge. Nisbet ended the campaign with 18 goals, while Doidge bagged 13, in a season where Hibs finished third in the Premiership and reached the Scottish Cup final.
The Easter Road outfit have started this campaign where they left off, sitting top of the league after two matches and still involved in European football. However, Ross has turned to a 4-2-3-1 – perhaps out of necessity when Doidge contracted Covid-19 in pre-season – but with the Welshman now fully fit and jostling for a first-team place, his boss has a decision to make: stick with a formation that is working, or tweak it to get both his No.9s on the park.
Doidge started in place of the injured Nisbet in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Ross County. The Scotland internationalist had a dead leg, but is expected to return for Thursday night’s Europa Conference League third qualifying round second leg away at Rijeka. The duo struck up a nice partnership last season, yet one may have to be content with a place on the bench.
The ultimate team player, Doidge recognises the value of the current system Hibs have in place. "Obviously with the shape we are playing at the moment, it's going to be difficult to put me and Nissy on the pitch, unless Nissy drops in the hole,” the 28-year-old said. “Nissy is a fantastic football player and he's got a slight knock, but we're both going to work hard this week to try and get a spot.
"I really enjoy it [the 4-2-3-1 formation]. It's really good for a front man – you've just got to stay in the middle of the pitch and it gives us a lot more opportunity to put more creative players on the park. Against Ross County, Jamie Murphy was outstanding, Boyley [Martin Boyle] was his normal self and Ginto [Kyle Magennis] in the hole works so hard for the team – he was terrific as well."
Doidge scored a neat glancing header in his first 90 minutes of the season, giving Ross more food for thought ahead of Thursday. “Every team I've played for, you're working up against another centre forward, but the good thing about Nissy, he can drop into the ten, so if there was an opportunity to play both of us then I'm sure the manager could look at that,” said Doidge. “But he's done fantastic this season as that lone striker. I've come in, put a good performance in and it's down to the manager now to see what he wants to do.”
Confidence is high in the Hibs camp heading to Croatia. “They were good footballers,” added Doidge, “but I just felt like there was enough in the first leg for us to probably get something, so we're going to go there full of confidence and try and get through to the next round. We're in a great place, we are moving the ball really well and creating lots of chances.”