Hibs, substitutes, and whether or not Scott Allan and Jamie Murphy should start against Rangers

“The simple things you see are all complicated,” sang Roger Daltrey on The Who’s 1966 single ‘Substitute’. Lyrics thought to be about a young man frustrated at being misunderstood, but similarly it is not so straightforward when it comes to substitutions in football.

By Patrick McPartlin
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 6:00 am
Scott Allan replaces Jamie Gullan during the victory over St Johnstone
Scott Allan replaces Jamie Gullan during the victory over St Johnstone

Scott Allan’s cameo against St Johnstone had a big impact on the outcome of the game, leading to calls for him to start against Rangers on Wednesday night, but 20 minutes against ten men desperately trying to hold onto a slender lead is a different scenario to starting a game against the current league-leaders with all 11 players on the park.

Speaking after the victory in Perth Jack Ross indicated that the way the game was going suited Allan and fellow sub Jamie Murphy. The pair effectively turned the game themselves; Allan and Murphy combining to set up Kevin Nisbet for the equaliser before Allan’s pass teed up the winger for the winner minutes later.

Why Ross is unlikely to start sub duo against Rangers

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The Hibs boss is not the type of figure to make wholesale changes to his starting team for no good reason. He knows his strongest 11, which players can make a difference in specific matches, and which tactics work against which teams.

Josh Campbell’s start at Hampden might have seemed out of the blue, but when one considers his similarity to Kyle Magennis, it made perfect sense.

Allan made a huge difference against St Johnstone; he and Murphy were the catalysts in Hibs’ come-from-behind win.

But is there really a case for him starting against Rangers on Wednesday night? Or Murphy, for that matter?

“I think like a number players he is very much part of what we do,” said Ross. “In the right circumstances, either starting games – as he has done recently – or coming on, he will always do so.

“I think the weekend was tailor-made for Scott and Jamie because we were so dominant and had so much of the ball in the final third and they are the ones who have that X factor that is really important. He knows how much his contribution is valued, whether that is at the start of games or coming on.”

They are talented players but any team worth its salt needs game-changers among the replacements. Allan and Murphy both have that in their locker and at this moment in time it would appear that they can best serve the team from the bench.

Building an all-round squad

It is clear to see what Ross is aiming for in terms of his team: a core starting XI and subs capable of stepping in and doing the same job as the player they have replaced, either from the start or during a game.

This explains his frustration with the summer transfer window – one or two positions, especially central defence, weren’t added to in a way that fitted this model.

It’s worth pointing out that Allan and Murphy can also play in more than one position, which adds to the options Ross has on the bench.

No player wants to be weighed down by the super-sub tag; they want to be starting matches, even though the line is always the same in terms of making an impact off the bench.

Hectic fixture list and managing injuries

Murphy is only just coming back from injury and Hibs will be managing his return to action to avoid a relapse. As for Allan, there isn’t a soul in Scottish football unaware of what he can do with a football, but there is a feeling that he suits some games more than others.

It would be no surprise to see Ross stick with more or less the same team that started at Hampden.

With the matches coming thick and fast he may have to employ a bit of rotation but to do that, he needs everyone to be as fit as possible – and bodies on the bench who can change games.

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