How Hibs can cope with the loss of Jason Naismith and Ryan Porteous against Hamilton - and beyond

Defensive duo sidelined for the foreseeable - but how can Hibees adapt?

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 4:45 pm
With Jason Naismith and Ryan Porteous out for the foreseeable future, Hibs have some decisions to make on their defensive options

Hibs face something of a defensive conundrum heading into the second part of the season, with on-loan Peterborough United full-back Jason Naismith and academy graduate Ryan Porteous both sidelined for a lengthy period, leaving Jack Ross with just three available natural centre-backs and a paucity of viable options at full-back.

Patrick McPartlin looks at how the Easter Road side can cope without Naismith and Porteous for the remainder of the season...

The obvious solution: Sign a replacement

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January perhaps isn't the optimum time for recruitment, although Hibs haven't done too badly in recent winter windows with a focus on quality rather than quantity.

The work done previously by the Easter Road recruitment team suggests that there will be a number of relevant players who could fit the position, with potential moves depending on which targets are attainable.

Given the comments made by head coach Jack Ross in the aftermath of Sunday's Scottish Cup match at Tannadice, Hibs will almost certainly work on bringing in reinforcements.

Centre-back Adam Jackson has been linked with a return south of the Border with Bolton Wanderers mentioned as a likely destination, but the former Barnsley man could see a lot more action in the second half of the season if he remains at the club.

The short-term fix: Bring back the Championship defence

Hibs finished Sunday's Scottish Cup tie at Dundee United with a familiar back four of David Gray, Darren McGregor, Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson. The quartet - all part of the Scottish Cup-winning side - have served the side well but there's a feeling among some sections of the support their best days may collectively be behind them.

There are questions over the long-term fitness of Gray and McGregor while Hanlon and Stevenson both had their own injuries to deal with over the summer, but there's no reason the back four that finished at Tannadice shouldn't be able to cope with Hamilton's forward line, at least.

Whether the same personnel should be tasked with keeping Motherwell quiet at Fir Park on Saturday is another question entirely, while the elephant in the room is undoubtedly whether the foursome can all remain fit and available for the remainder of the season.

The long-term plan: Promote Josh Doig - or another youngster

Youngster Josh Doig has featured at left-back in a back four, although Hibs Reserves boss Lee Makel has hinted that the 17-year-old's future may lie in central defence. He has already operated as a left-sided centre-half in a back three for the Easter Road side and is an aggressive tackler and good going forward.

He stood out in a Reserve League Cup match at Meggetland against former side Hearts, setting up Oli Shaw for a late equaliser and linking up well with Jamie Gullan on the left flank.

Kos Sadiki is another option at centre-back - the powerful Canadian stopper has looked solid for the club's reserves and poses a threat from set-pieces, scoring the winner in a recent 1-0 win over Celtic at the Hibernian Training Centre. The former Stoke City youngster has trained with the first-team squad and was tipped for the top by Marc McNulty during the striker's loan spell at Easter Road last season.

While Hibs may be reluctant to rely on Doig or Sadiki much at this stage in their respective careers, the old adage of "if you're good enough, you're old enough" may ring true - provided the club feels the duo are ready to make the step up. Assuming the Capital club does bring in reinforcements this month, there could still be room for bringing on the youngsters as well.

Return of Tom James?

Tom James hasn't featured since the Betfred Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic at Hampden but he could well find himself back in matchday squads now that Naismith is out long-term. The versatile former Yeovil Town defender can operate in either full-back role, beginning the season on the left of a back four before switching sides.

While Stevenson effectively has the left-back slot sewn up, rotating James with Gray at right-back could be a way of maintaining the club captain's fitness while reducing the risk of further injury.

The wildcard option: Go with three at the back

A back three has served Hibs well in the past, with Hanlon, McGregor and Jackson the obvious trio. Steven Whittaker filled in as an auxiliary centre-back against Celtic in the 1-1 draw in September last year - albeit in a back four - and could provide back-up from the bench.

That being said, Jack Ross has gone with a flat back four in all ten of his games in charge at Easter Road, and appears to have done likewise during his entire tenure at Sunderland.

He opted for three at the back on occasion while managing St Mirren but appears to favour a four-man defence these days, so a sea change in formation would appear unlikely - and with the very real possibility that one or more defenders could sustain an injury prompting yet another switch in tactics, it hardly seems worth it.