Hibs' Josh Campbell could be big asset this season as early form vindicates Lee Johnson call

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It’s hard to imagine even the most ardent and optimistic of Hibs fans predicting, on the eve of the new season, that Josh Campbell would score two vital goals in the opening few matches.

Yet an insistence from the coaching staff that he get forward more appears to be paying off, with the 22-year-old scoring an opening-day injury-time winner at St Johnstone from right-wingback and an equaliser, again in time added-on, against Rangers after starting at left-wingback before moving into central midfield.

Manager Lee Johnson praised Campbell’s efforts to link play but revealed in the aftermath of the 2-2 draw that he was keen to get him further up the park – a tactical decision that ultimately bore fruit.

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Utility man – without the stigma?

Even as recently as last season it wasn’t clear which position got the best out of Campbell. He had his moments throughout the campaign – an impressive showing against Rangers in November in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final, a first senior goal against St Mirren in December, and his first Scotland Under-21 caps – but started just three of Hibs’ final seven games under interim boss David Gray and it remained unclear what role he might play under a new manager despite signing a long-term deal in December.

Since the arrival of Johnson however, the versatile midfielder has become a key cog; a reliable, energetic figure capable of lung-busting 90-minute performances – or coming off the bench to affect a game.

In seven games this season he has three goals and one assist; stats of which a centre-forward might be proud.

He has played at left-back, left-wingback, right-wingback, central midfield, and attacking midfield and will undoubtedly take up further roles before the season is out and perform them with similar ease.

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Josh Campbell has had a positive start to the campaignJosh Campbell has had a positive start to the campaign
Josh Campbell has had a positive start to the campaign

Having a player capable of all that is a godsend for managers – especially ones with lengthy injury lists.

Goals from midfield

Johnson views Campbell as very well suited to the high pressing game he wants to play and has been impressed by the player’s fitness levels and adaptability.

Despite the player’s familiarity with more defensive-minded roles, the early signs suggest that he will contribute goals from midfield, which was a real problem area for the team last term.

Campbell, centre, celebrates after netting the equaliser against RangersCampbell, centre, celebrates after netting the equaliser against Rangers
Campbell, centre, celebrates after netting the equaliser against Rangers

It feels like a big season for Campbell, who has the chance to nail down a regular starting berth under yet another manager, keep adding goals, and show why Johnson and the club have put so much faith in him.

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That’s not to say Hibs don’t need more bodies in the middle of the park, however. Even with Kyle Magennis eyeing a comeback, there remains uncertainty over when he will be in a position to contribute to the first team and links with Australian central midfielder Jake Brimmer appear to suggest that the recruitment team are keen to add something a little different in the engine room.

But with Johnson less concerned with formations and more focused on style of play, Campbell could be a huge asset this season. Versatility and energy is one thing but it is starting to look like the academy graduate is bringing more to the table.

If he continues on this upward trajectory, that new long-term deal will start to look like smart business – and Hibs and the player should reap the benefits.

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