Hibs injury crisis: Who's sidelined, for how long, and how could it affect the season?
Rocky Bushiri’s red card against Dundee means Hibs are now without 11 first-team players for Saturday’s Scottish Premiership clash with St Johnstone.
Illness, injuries, and suspension means manager Shaun Maloney will have to ask a lot of his remaining players, while crossing his fingers that there are no further casualties.
Who is out and why?
As things stand Hibs are without one goalkeeper, four defenders, two midfielders, two widemen, and two forwards.
Rocky Bushiri is suspended while Chris Mueller and James Scott are set to miss out through illness. Matt Macey sustained an injury in the goalless draw with Celtic that ruled him out of the midweek trip to Dundee while Kevin Nisbet is out long term with knee ligament damage.
Kyle Magennis was on his way back from a troublesome groin problem but picked up another knock in training while captain Paul Hanlon remains sidelined with a heel issue. Defensive colleague Paul McGinn lasted just 12 minutes of the 2-0 defeat by Rangers last month after appearing to suffer a recurrence of the injury he sustained in the 3-2 home defeat by Livingston in January.
Demi Mitchell hasn’t played since he was forced off in the 3-1 Scottish Cup win against Arbroath but is hopeful of returning sooner rather than later.
January signing Harry Clarke is still nursing a hamstring injury while Joe Newell is progressing as he looks to recover from the injury he suffered during the goalless Edinburgh derby at the start of February.
Nisbet loss has left Hibs short on options in attack with just Christian Doidge and Elias Melkersen as recognised centre-forwards in the first-team squad.
Summer transfer window side-effects
It could be argued that Hibs have been short in attack since Paul Heckingbottom’s time at the club. The team was perhaps fortunate last season that Martin Boyle, Doidge, and Nisbet didn’t suffer injury and when one was out of form the other two were still firing on all cylinders.
In the final game of the season, Melker Hallberg and Drey Wright formed a makeshift strikeforce against Celtic as Jack Ross chose to rest his first team ahead of the Scottish Cup final – a big indication that the team was short of at least one forward.
Doidge’s injury in August, following a bout of Covid-19 in the summer, kept him out of the team until November. Even if he hadn’t suffered the injury, the decision not to bring in reinforcements began to look like a mistake, especially given the relative lack of gametime meted out to Jamie Gullan.
Boyle’s 14 goals in all competitions in the first half of the season carried Hibs to a certain extent. Without him in the team, Hibs have struggled for goals, scoring just four in the league in 2022.
January, Boyle, and Melkersen
The sale of Boyle to Al-Faisaly towards the end of January, while not a total surprise, was something that Hibs hadn’t been expecting going into the winter transfer window. Melkersen’s arrival was always painted as a longer-term project – it was only really following Boyle’s departure and a lack of goals in the side that his progress to the first team became more urgent.
However, there was also a clear need to strengthen in other areas. Central defence was in bad need of some extra bodies with Rocky Bushiri coming in and fellow January signing Harry Clarke able to play there as well.
Reinforcements were needed in certain positions to allow Maloney to implement his footballing philosophy, hence the capture of Ewan Henderson and Demi Mitchell.
Senior figures at Hibs have admitted that the January window resulted in more upheaval than they ideally would have liked but it was deemed necessary. With Boyle gone, Sylvester Jasper was brought in late on to add to the options in the final third. Chris Mueller is another who has been contributing in the final third.
But the message has been clear from players and manager that they have to be doing more in the final third. It hasn’t been for the want of trying. Having seemingly sorted out the defence – three consecutive clean sheets is good – they need to make it click in the final third.
The bumps and knocks being suffered at an alarming rate by the Hibs squad doesn’t help. Maloney has said on more than one occasion that every team suffers injury set-backs but it does feel like Hibs have been dealt a particularly harsh hand since the turn of the year.
Almost all the injuries are contact-based; that is, suffered during innocuous tackles in training or in-game challenges.
When will injured players be back?
Shaun Maloney believes Hanlon and Newell are potentially closest to a return although he has stressed the importance of getting the sidelined players back up to speed given the amount of time they have spent out. Nisbet is out for the season while Mitchell himself has said he is hoping to be back before the end of the campaign.
Clarke could return either side of the international break, according to Maloney, but some of the players are being assessed on a game-to-game basis.
Why can’t the youngsters play?
The performances of the Hibs Under-18s have caught the eye – unbeaten in all competitions and chasing a league and cup double – but so far just Jacob Blaney and Oscar MacIntyre have been named in first-team squads.
Rules prevent youth players from playing twice in the space of 24 hours and given most of the 18s’ games are played on Friday nights this means they can’t play Under-18 league game and be part of the Easter Road first-team squad.
How much will it impact the season?
If Hibs are to come out on top in the battle for fourth they will either have to hope for small miracles in the medical room, or that those who have remained fit can do the business.
The return of some players will be a shot in the arm for the side but the players currently available should have enough to pick up results – starting with the Saints on Saturday.