The current Hibs midfield represents a striker’s dream, according to a man who has worked with all of its main protagonists.
Scott Allan, John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch have combined to formidable effect in the engine room to help secure back-to-back victories over Rangers and Aberdeen since Allan returned on loan to Easter Road on the last day of the January transfer window.
During two injury-interrupted years with Hibs, Farid El Alagui was a team-mate of all three of these highly-regarded Scottish midfielders, although he didn’t get the chance to play with the trio all at once as Allan left for Celtic just weeks after McGinn arrived from St Mirren in summer 2015.
The striker believes Hibs forwards like Florian Kamberi, Jamie Maclaren and Oli Shaw are in for a treat with these three fearless west-coasters weaving their magic behind them.
“It’s a striker’s dream to have this type of midfield behind you,” El Alagui told the Evening News. “It just takes one good movement and these players can find you right away because they can see and do things quicker than most other players can. These boys want a striker who will make that movement to get on the ball so they can come and support you.
“The three of them all want to play the ball forward and as a striker that’s the best thing you can have because they are always trying to find you right away. It can get frustrating if it’s just square passes all the time and the ball isn’t coming up to you but with these guys you’ve got to be on your toes because they’re always trying to find you.
“They are all very different players but they all have great vision and are able to see a pass before most other players. Their range of passing is top quality. In one movement, they can drive forward and then play a pass to break the opposition midfield and defence.
“They are definitely up there as one of the top midfields in the country. If you’ve just outplayed Aberdeen, who are a very hard team to play against, that tells you all you need to know about this Hibs midfield.”
The engine room was already viewed as the strongest area of Hibs’ team before Allan returned. El Alagui believes the return of the club’s 2014/15 player of the year represented a no-brainer for both Hibs and Allan after his unfulfilling stints with parent club Celtic, and loan clubs Rotherham United and Dundee. “Bringing Scott back has just added that little extra quality to Hibs’ midfield,” said the Bordeaux-born Moroccan, currently with Edinburgh City.
“He stole the headlines in his first season at Hibs – he was outstanding, almost unplayable in some games. He was taking control of matches by himself and running the show, basically. He had a great time and I’m not surprised they took him back. I think he is someone who is at his best when he has care and affection, and Hibs is a special club in that way. It’s a big club and it’s also a close family club, and I think that’s what Scott needs to show how good he is.
“He seems to have that feeling of being at home playing in his back garden when he’s playing for Hibs. You can see how confident he is and the way his body language is – that can be really contagious through all the other players in the team as well.”
After showing flashes of his quality in his first three injury-disrupted years at Hibs, McGeouch is now benefiting from being fully fit. The former Celtic midfielder has been among the best-performing players in the Scottish Premiership this season.
“The most disappointing thing for Dylan is that, until this season, he’s never been fully fit so wasn’t able to show just how good he is,” said El Alagui.
“He’s almost been like a new signing for Hibs this season because he’s been fully fit and able to play regularly. He has good stamina, he likes to run about and make sure everyone in the team is involved in the play.
“He makes the team more fluent and keeps the intensity going. He is always asking for the ball and then moving it on. He never stops. He’s always on the move to make sure the momentum doesn’t die. He hasn’t had as much attention as the others but the job he does is just as important.”
McGinn has been the most consistent of the three Easter Road musketeers over the past few years and, as a Scotland internationalist at 23, is viewed as the club’s most valuable asset. “John has a bit more power than the other two,” said El Alagui. “He was already a great player under Alan Stubbs and now he’s probably made even more progress under Neil Lennon. He is improving every time he plays.”
Marvin Bartley was demoted to the bench for the 2-0 victory over Aberdeen last weekend, but El Alagui believes the midfield anchorman will complement Allan, McGinn and McGeouch perfectly whenever Neil Lennon opts to play all four – as he did in the 2-1 win at Ibrox earlier this month. “Big Marv is the foundation you need when you build your house,” said El Alagui. “He is someone you can rely on. He will be there to do the dirty work for the team. He is happy to play in front of the defence and he is really important when he plays. I’ve seen him destroying opposition midfields, and they lose their rhythm and their confidence. He’s been outstanding for Hibs. I think they miss him sometimes when he doesn’t play. He’s different from the others but he is an important player to have. If Marv plays, it gives all the other guys the freedom to go and do what they want because they know he will be there behind them looking after them.”