How Hibs boss Jack Ross might solve Alex Gogic suspension blow for semi-final
In the aftermath of Hibs’ Scottish Cup quarter-final win on penalties against Motherwell most fans’ main concern was whether the talismanic Martin Boyle would be suspended for the semi-final.
Few seemed to give much, if any thought to Alex Gogic, whose red card for two bookable offences ruled him out of a third appearance at Hampden in a little over six months.
Boyle is clear to play, having accumulated just two yellows, rather than the three that would have seen him sit out the last-four encounter and while his availability is a huge boost for a side not exactly teeming with attacking options, Jack Ross must still find a player to deputise for Gogic.
With such a small squad and several central midfielders out on loan, his options are limited.
The obvious: Melker Hallberg
The versatile Melker Hallberg would appear to be the obvious candidate to come in for Gogic in the starting line-up. The Swede is still joint-third in terms of assists (level with Joe Newell behind Martin Boyle and Kevin Nisbet) and is capable of playing a deeper role or further forward.
Assuming Ross keeps faith in the 3-4-1-2 formation that has served him well this season, Hallberg could slot in alongside Newell in the middle of the park, freeing up Jackson Irvine to operate as a ten behind Nisbet and Christian Doidge.
Hallberg and Newell formed a good partnership in midfield in December when Gogic spent a while out of the team and on that evidence it is hard to imagine the coaching staff opting for anything different.
Something that perhaps isn’t obvious to supporters watching on TV is the number of forward runs Hallberg makes. There is a reason he has five assists this season and his three goals for Hibs have come from similar moves. Add in his ability from set-pieces and there’s a good all-rounder who is unlikely to let the team down.
The outside chance: Kyle Magennis
It has been said before but Kyle Magennis really has had a wretched season in terms of injuries and illness limiting his gametime. But he played a big part in Hibs’ second goal at Tannadice in the 2-0 win in January and his energy and drive from midfield has helped keep Hibs on the front foot in some games. His only goal so far this term came against United in the 1-1 draw at Easter Road in December.
While Magennis has most often been used as a wide midfielder, if Ross sticks with the 3-5-2 formation it’s unlikely that Josh Doig will be dropped, especially given United’s apparent weakness in dealing with crosses.
The former St Mirren man is a very good option to have off the bench and that might just convince Ross to name him among the replacements. The combination of injuries, loans, and a compact squad means that, should Hibs need inspiration off the bench this weekend, the possibilities are limited.
Jamie Murphy had an outside chance of being included in the squad against St Johnstone. That he wasn’t perhaps suggests that he is being kept for Hampden. With Nisbet expected to be fit enough to start at the national stadium, having Magennis and Murphy as two options on the bench could be crucial.
Magennis has started at Hampden before but the likelihood is that he will be kept in reserve to ensure a strong bench.
The wildcard: Drey Wright
Ostensibly a winger, Drey Wright has filled a number of roles this season but looks the part when played more centrally, for example in the 2-2 draw with Rangers in September. He started just his tenth Scottish Premiership game against St Johnstone at the weekend, operating on the right in place of Boyle who was pushed up top in the absence of Nisbet.
He was an unused sub for Hibs’ last two trips to Hampden but he started off rather well against the Saints, albeit the visitors doubling up on Doig forced more attacks to come down the right side and the combination of Callum Booth and Liam Gordon did well to nullify Wright and Paul McGinn.
Ross has previous for making changes after a bad result and more often than not it has the desired effect. But would he stretch to this sort of alteration? It’s unlikely.
Wright’s ability to play on either wing or centrally makes him a good option off the bench and barring injuries, that’s where he looks likely to start at Hampden.
The tactical shuffle: Jamie Murphy
At the time of writing we don’t know if Jamie Murphy will be fit enough to play, let alone start, but he returned to training in the last week of April and there was a suggestion he had a chance of being involved against St Johnstone at the weekend.
In the end he watched the game from the stand and while he hasn’t kicked a ball since the 1-0 defeat to Callum Davidson's side in Perth in March, having him available this weekend could well be akin to a new signing.
Like Magennis, injuries have hampered Murphy’s season but he has impressed in his fleeting appearances and his ability is there for all to see.
If he was to start it would almost certainly necessitate a change in formation to a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate him on the left wing and that might be a big call to make when the 3-5-2 has served Hibs relatively well.
Ross could stick with 3-5-2 and bring in Murphy for Gogic to play the 10 role with Newell and Irvine combining in central midfield – but there are questions over that pairing without Gogic there and with Irvine being used more and more as an attacking outlet, the chances of Ross changing things up for such a major fixture are surely doubtful.