Hibs pay a high price for transfer sluggishness as lack of signings exposed in Euro exit
The journey home from Croatia will, undoubtedly, have been an uncomfortable one for Darren McGregor. Surrounded by dejected team-mates, who had just been turfed out of European competition.
As honest and whole-hearted as he is and as someone who cares deeply about the club and knows that, given his vintage, he may not have many more opportunities to perform on such a stage, he will have been beating himself up.
But, although there is no hiding the fact that he lost Domagoj Pavicic at Rijeka’s opening goal, and no disguising the reality that, having battled back into the game, his 66th minute sending off took the legs out from under the Easter Road side, if he was kicking himself, he shouldn’t have been the only one.
As a club they worked so hard throughout last season to earn their European adventure but once they had it, as a club, they gave it away too cheaply.
On the field and off it, few can question the industry of all involved but when it came to key moments, there was some questionable decision making and they just haven’t been clinical enough.
Over the two legs of the Rijeka tie, that was clear enough but if there were squandered chances, poor choices and defensive mistakes on the pitch, off it the inability to get specific signings over the line proved just as devastating in the end.
The limited options at Jack Ross’ disposal last season arguably cost them silverware. It meant that once St Johnstone had sussed out a successful way to play against the Easter Road side, Jack Ross had no way to satisfactorily shuffle the pack so they just kept hurling themselves at the same brick wall.
Smarting from defeat in the final of the Scottish Cup, the football department identified ways to address those vulnerabilities.
Reinforcements in midfield have helped, with the likes of Jake Doyle Hayes bringing something different to the team but the inability to bolster the defence and provide competition at the tip of the attack cost them in Croatia.
There have been efforts made behind the scenes but clubs are struggling to operate in a deathly slow market so, with St Johnstone apparently knocking back offers for Jamie McCart and clubs trying not to blink first. When captain Paul Hanlon was ruled out with concussion and McGregor was sent packing, there was nowhere for Ross to turn, with young Jack Brydon not the answer. Not yet.
In Doidge’s absence there was also a dearth of game-changers when Hibs were forced to chase the game.
The hierarchy are still striving to bring in Chris Mueller before January, and working their way through a wishlist of strikers and centre-backs. But, failing to do so quickly enough has denied them a very good shot at the Conference League group stages and the accompanying money and prestige.
Now, with domestic targets to meet, they will have to decide quickly just how much they are willing to stump up to bolster their chances of a quick return to Europe and make their league and cup ambitions a reality.
Unfortunately, though, now that clubs know just how badly they need reinforcements, with Doidge facing the possibility of a prolonged period on the sidelines, they could find the price has gone up.