Hibs need reinforcements to sustain Euro challenge - talking points from Saints defeat

Downhearted - Hibs players trudge off after loss to St Johnstone.Downhearted - Hibs players trudge off after loss to St Johnstone.
Downhearted - Hibs players trudge off after loss to St Johnstone.
Weaknesses in all areas underline urgency of recruitment drive

Unforgettable. Unfortunately. Because there is no doubt that most Hibs fans in attendance at yesterday’s brutalising contest would prefer to banish all vestiges of the experience from their collective consciousness – and hope that the flaws so cruelly exposed somehow magically disappear before this weekend’s resumption of hostilities in the Highlands.

It is, alas, one of the facts of footballing life that those at the sharp end can’t merely dismiss bad days at the office as flukes or unfortunate blips in the road. Nick Montgomery will know that the issues highlighted by a miserable 1-0 loss to St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park can’t be ignored.

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Even taking away the individual error that gifted Craig Levein’s men the only goal of the game, with the identity of the opposition manager undoubtedly adding to the agony for a large travelling support, Hibs gave up plenty of chances in a game where David Marshall had to be at his best. And their inability to create openings of their own left Monty looking – and sounding – extremely frustrated at full-time.

As he and his coaching brains trust retreat to East Mains for a strategy session aimed at turning things around against Ross County in Dingwall this weekend, a fixture that will pit Montgomery against one of the loosest of loose cannons in the cockamamie world of Scottish coaching, they’ll have a short-term plan. And, quite possibly, some medium-term ambitions that go beyond shuffling the same pieces around the tactics board …

January MUST be a busy month for Hibs

Sure, Monty might say all the right things about working with the players at his disposal. He has gone out of his way, in fact, to stress that there is no great war chest just waiting to be prised open during the mid-season transfer window.

If Hibs are serious about contending for third or even fourth place in the Scottish Premiership, however, the guys already in place need help. They can’t just rely on a couple of injured players maybe getting themselves fit for February. There are obvious weak spots in the squad. Failure to strengthen in those areas, especially when you consider the key characters likely to be missing on international duty in early 2024, would be a major misjudgement.

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With the exact timing of Adam Le Fondre’s return to action still uncertain, a forward – one capable of stepping straight into the starting XI and scoring goals – is an obvious priority. Which means spending how much, exactly? Well, for context, Dylan Vente cost Hibs about £700,000 in the summer.

Then again, even without counting match day revenue, Aberdeen have raked in around £4.5 million from their Europe Conference League exploits this season. Speculate to accumulate, etc.

Joe Newell was missed

It’s undoubtedly true that many a player has become much better, in the eyes of supporters, by dint of suddenly becoming unavailable. By full-time at McDiarmid, away punters might have been talking about the suspended Newell as if he was Xavi, Iniesta, Pirlo and Platini rolled into one.

His range of passing definitely would have helped to subdue a St Johnstone side who, let’s be honest, did not look particularly interested in breaking out of their 5-4-1 formation very often. That’s not to denigrate the home side in any way, incidentally. If it works, it works.

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To err is human

Dylan Levitt doesn’t have to apologise to anyone for the misplaced pass that allowed St Johnstone to score the only goal of the game. He needn’t turn up for training in a special sackcloth kit, complete with ashy residue around the collar.

Levitt remains a really fine footballer who, ironically, can usually be relied upon to complete the bold passes necessary to break that first pressing line of opponents. He got one wrong. And probably could have expected a little more help in preventing his mistake from becoming a disaster.

Impact subs don’t always work

Christian Doidge added something to the attack when thrown on late in the game. Rocky Bushiri brought a bit of positive chaotic energy, as a central defender capable of running at the opposition, as a replacement for the steadier Paul Hanlon.

Despite having served a short stint as a stand-in right back in the away win over Livingston seven days earlier, however, Josh Campbell really looked out of place when asked to deputise for Lewis Miller – feeling a bit crook, as the Aussies would put it, but also on a booking – for the entire second half in Perth. Even if Rory Whittaker was on the exhausted side of leggy, natural for a 16-year-old who had put in 78 hard minutes at Livi, might he have been a more natural replacement for Miller? It’s a fair question.

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