Hibs star dives deep into 'risk versus reward' strategy setting fans on edge
Scary moments for the fans are par for the course. And their fears shouldn’t be dismissed. Because, while they all clearly understand the logic behind the masterplan, it’s OK that not everyone is convinced – at least not yet – of the wisdom in Hibs modelling their build-up on the sort of high-risk strategy more natural to a Manchester City or Barcelona.
Over two decades on from his senior debut, David Marshall understands why the more jittery elements of the Easter Road support panic when they see him rolling the ball along the six-yard line with the sole of his boot. As the most experienced of veterans in the first-team squad, he’s also prepared to take the flak should things go wrong. As they sometimes do.
But he genuinely believes that, in time, the bait-and-switch approach masterminded by Nick Montgomery, with a little help from goalie coach Miguel Miranda, will prove so successful that no-one will even question it. Never mind start screaming about getting the ball “up the park” whenever it goes anywhere near the ‘keeper.
Offering some insight into the details of a ploy based on the idea that you actually WANT opponents to put pressure on you inside your own penalty box, former Scotland No. 1 Marshall admitted: “There are a few scary moments for fans, and they get a bit frustrated at times. But there is method in the madness. You saw our first goal from Dundee, it was exactly what we’ve been working on in training, so it’s good when stuff comes together.
“It’s just decision making, really. Lads are making movements and me, personally, I have to see them, to pick them out, to look for movements in the opposition to create space.
“You are almost trying to draw teams out so you can get past that press – and it almost creates a transition. It’s like a counterattack for us if we can beat that press.
“I know it looks really intricate sometimes, but it has worked really well so far. And I’m sure the more we do it, the better we’ll get at it – and it will change and adapt. There is a lot more onus on the thought process, which is good.”
At the age of 38, Marshall is relishing not merely his good fortune at finding a coach bringing out his most adventurous tendencies, but the opportunity to learn. There’s nothing quite like it for maintaining a youthful outlook on life.
The ex-Celtic goalie said: “You are just learning constantly. It has been a big change in terms of the back four and the goalkeeper, in how we play.
“Miguel coming in, even just minor details are really important. We were talking the other day about me receiving the ball from my left, standing on it with my studs on my right boot – but I’m not as comfortable doing that with my left foot. So maybe take a touch. Small details have been massive, things I’ve never noticed before.”
Expanding on the methodology behind the Xs and Os on the tactics board, Marshall explained: “It’s risk versus reward. And I don’t mind putting myself out there. I’m at an age now where I can take a bit of a battering if I put myself in sticky situations.
“I know the reason we’re doing it. What we’re doing at the back is trying to build some space and some time, and some opportunities for the forward lads in the team, because we want to get our pace and quality at the top end of the pitch on the ball, in as good a position as possible.
“Sometimes the crowd get a bit frustrated with it. But the more we win games, the easier it will be.”
Addressing the lingering reluctance among supporters who have seen their team suffer plenty of self-inflicted harm already this season, without willingly creating jeopardy so close to their own goal, Marshall said he knows a lot of fans still need to be won over, admitting: “Aye, of course. I had a bit of this at Cardiff when we used to play Swansea. We were the opposite of them, in terms of style.
“I go back to Brendan Rodgers being Swansea manager and, when we would play them, they would just keep the ball off us. And it was almost borderline boring because they had so much of the ball.
“At Cardiff they just wouldn’t accept that kind of football. But they had their Swansea way of doing it.
“It’s really enjoyable, it’s a good way of controlling games. And we’re creating a lot of chances. I’m sure we’ll get even better at it, the more we work with the manager and his staff.
“Yes, you need to be brave. But everyone has bought into it. We’ve made mistakes along the way, but the manager’s demands are really high - and there are no grey areas.”
Laughing as he recalled being on an SFA course with Miranda, Marshall said: “He was probably surprised when he turned up here and I was his goalie! I’ve always really enjoyed this style of football. But it’s kind of your luck, who your manager is, what style of play they want from you. That dictates how much you can get involved.
“I’ve had this a couple of times but not too often in my career. So I’ve really enjoyed being more constantly involved in the game.”