How Hibs are faring under Lee Johnson after dismal Premier Sports Cup campaign, 16 new signings, and injury issues?
The 2022/23 Scottish Premiership campaign may only be seven games old but with the Premier Sports Cup campaign having started on July 9 it feels like we barely had a break from domestic football this summer.
Hibs’ participation in the group stages of the League Cup does allow us to cast an appraising eye over the Easter Road side’s progress so far this term, and how they are faring under new management.
So with the season at its first natural pause for the international break, how are Hibs looking on and off the park?
Picking up the pieces from last season
The 2021/22 campaign was such a maelstrom of managerial comings and goings, injuries, and poor results that it was hard to ignore the sheer magnitude of the task facing Lee Johnson and his staff.
There have been hiccups along the way, certainly, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The ignominious Premier Sports Cup exit and subsequent paperwork bungle left many fans fearing the worst, especially after the defeat by Falkirk and lacklustre draw and penalties defeat at the hands of Morton before the game was awarded to the visitors.
A last-gasp opening-day win at St Johnstone got the league campaign off to a winning start but was it papering over the cracks? The returning Martin Boyle was on hand to fire an equaliser deep into stoppage time to ensure the first Edinburgh derby of the Scottish Premiership season finished all square.
A dismal defeat by Livingston in West Lothian was followed by another late show, this time against Rangers at Easter Road when Josh Campbell larruped in an injury-time equaliser, but the following week saw defeat on the road yet again. Back-to-back home wins against ten-man Kilmarnock and Aberdeen followed either side of the postponed trip to Dundee United.
Incidentally, the 3-1 victory over the Dons marked Hibs’ tenth game unbeaten at home in the league.
Lee Johnson has spoken about making Easter Road a fortress, and the club’s decision to continue with the five-game ‘match packs’ allowing supporters to pick and choose the matches they want to attend could be a smart bit of marketing provided they can maintain a decent run of results.
There was a point during the summer when it wasn’t clear what Hibs would announce more of, new signings or new partnerships.
In the end a total of 16 new arrivals were brought in. Some have made an instant impact, such as the returning Martin Boyle, new ‘keeper David Marshall, and Josh Doig’s replacement Marijan Čabraja, while others have shown flashes of what they can bring, like Nohan Kenneh and Élie Youan. Others need time to settle in the Scottish game.
If you were to rate the transfer business out of ten, as things stand it’s probably at 6 bordering on 7, with the potential for it to rise higher depending on how the season pans out.
The club has strengthened the areas needing work – mainly in the final third and in between the sticks – and has taken a chance on some low-risk, potentially high-reward players to supplement the squad.
Barring the worst luck, Hibs are highly unlikely to experience a repeat of last season’s problems up front when they were relying on a rookie teenager and a loan striker for the final part of the campaign.
The squad looks strong in every area – even in midfield, which looked a bit threadbare during the League Cup games. With seven players still to return from injury, the group should only get stronger – and for the first time in a while, there looks like being serious competition in every position.
It has been non-stop for Lee Johnson since he took the reins in May. A pre-season training camp in Portugal, a forgettable Premier Sports Cup campaign, 16 new signings, emergency gallbladder removal surgery on transfer deadline day, and managing the team on a day-to-day basis.
The 41-year-old said in the summer that it would take time for his team to click and that he couldn’t even pick a strongest starting XI as a result of injuries and, at the time, paperwork and visa hold-ups.
Against Kilmarnock and to a greater extent in the match with Aberdeen, Hibs showed signs of things clicking.
Data from StatsBomb showed that even with Hibs 1-0 down and with 11 v 11, they had five times as many shots as Aberdeen and had an expected goals (xG) value of 0.71 to Aberdeen’s 0.07 – ten times the amount – before the penalty award.
The Easter Road side finished with a cumulative xG of 3.38, the Dons managing just 0.82.
Against one of their main rivals, it was a good result, and the data appears to be heading in the right direction. Johnson has stressed that it will take time for everything to click into place, but the initial signs are promising.
Hibs have fared well against Aberdeen, Hearts, and Rangers but have struggled against Livingston and St Mirren.
The Tony Macaroni Arena is a tough place to go for many teams but one of the pieces of the jigsaw that Hibs need to find quickly is overcoming teams that they ‘should’ be beating. Of course, no team has a right to beat another but if Hibs are serious about making the top three or four every season then it is imperative that they
Johnson said after the Aberdeen game: “We have to make our away form better now… we want to make [Easter Road] a fortress but we have to get better away.
"I knew the good work was being done, the lads were producing but it hadn’t come out to the tune of two or three points.”
Johnson knows what’s working, what needs worked on and, perhaps crucially, seems to be getting the best out of most of the players.
If he can keep spreading that throughout the squad then Hibs should continue on their upward trajectory.