Whether it’s the new manager bounce or the new Easter Road boss and his coaching staff simply getting more out of the players at his disposal, the squad as a whole has looked reinvigorated in the past week against two teams – Aberdeen and Dundee United – who beat Hibs in October.
Individuals who looked tired or low on confidence previously have been given a new lease of life. Those who didn’t have shifted things up a gear. And the team is benefiting hugely.
Maloney has chosen to rotate players in some positions, with Scott Allan starting against Aberdeen and Chris Cadden and Josh Doig restored to the starting XI, and Drey Wright handed a first start since May against the Terrors.
Matt Macey has proven a safe pair of hands since taking over the gloves from Ofir Marciano. The former Arsenal shot-stopper has picked up where his former rival for the No.1 slot left off, keeping eight clean sheets so far this season and popping up with a few vital saves. He had to be alert to scramble a Nicky Clark free kick out for a corner early in the second half and he denied Adrian Sporle later in the same period. Had no chance with Declan Glass’ goal and bar one iffy attempted punch, had a comfortable afternoon between the sticks.
On the right of a back three Ryan Porteous was playing a slightly different role. The 22-year-old has normally played in a two-man central defence in a back four or as the middle centre-back in a three. The absence of Paul McGinn paved the way for Porteous to take on a different role and he adapted well, linking up well with Chris Cadden and Martin Boyle on the right, and if Hibs are looking to bring in another centre-back, Porteous as right centre-back looks a good option going forward.
Paul Hanlon anchored the defence – also a bit of a change from the captain, who normally sits on the left of a back three or the left centre-back in a back four. Took one for the team with booking early in the second half but played well and provided a threat from set-pieces.
Another unfamiliar face was Lewis Stevenson at left centre-back. The veteran has played there before but not regularly, and he appeared to struggle at times, a weak header forcing Hanlon into a yellow-card foul to prevent a Dundee United chance. However, he played well and his presence meant Josh Doig had cover in defence. Was shifted to left wingback when Doig went off, and had involvement in the third goal.
In central midfield Jake Doyle-Hayes shook off an injury picked up against Aberdeen and was a huge presence in midfield. Always had time on the ball and sumptuous through-ball engineered the second goal for Hibs. Partner Josh Campbell had a quieter game but his boundless energy always gives opponents something to think about. Has had busier games but did his bit in the middle of the park.
Chris Cadden has enjoyed a new lease of life under Maloney. Got up and down the right flank all game, swapping with Boyle and netting his first goal for Hibs. Involved in the opener as his thunderous effort fell for Boyle whose drilled effort was turned home by Kevin Nisbet.
Josh Doig also looks to be returning to his best after a few under-par showings which were almost certainly partly the result of his battle with Covid-19 earlier this year. Less need to focus on defensive duties means his attacking strengths are better used. Cross led to the opening goal.
A surprise starter was Drey Wright but the Englishman put in a good shift. Handed what looked like a free role as he often overloaded on the right to create space on the left wing and had a hand in the opener with run in behind. Could yet be hope for him at Easter Road.
Up top Martin Boyle was a constant pest to the United defence – whether it was cutting inside, racing up the wing, or his rotation with Cadden, Adrian Sporle will be glad not to have to face the Australian cap any time soon. Three assists is a good afternoon’s work and takes him up to five in a week.
Kevin Nisbet has struggled at times this season but the striker was in the right place at the right time to net the opener. Looked far more confident after scoring and although he was unable to trouble Benji Siegrist further, he nearly set up Jamie Murphy for a goal late on before making way for Christian Doidge.
Jamie Murphy was the first sub to come on, replacing Wright, and Hibs went to a 3-4-3 to accommodate the winger. Linked up well with Stevenson and took goal well.
Darren McGregor replaced Doig for the final 20 minutes or so, taking up a role in the middle of the back three with Stevenson going to left wingback and Hanlon to left centre-back. Didn’t do much wrong during his time on the pitch. Neither did Christian Doidge, who came on for Nisbet for the final few minutes and offered Hibs an aerial focus up front.
Ratings: Macey 6, Porteous 7, Hanlon 7, Stevenson 6, Cadden 8, Campbell 6, Doyle-Hayes 7, Doig 7, Boyle 9, Nisbet 7. Subs: Murphy 7, McGregor 6, Doidge 6.