How injuries could affect Hibs line-up at Livingston - and what Lee Johnson might do
On the plus side, he should have Kevin Nisbet and Mykola Kukharevych back available while Jake Doyle-Hayes nad Kyle Magennis could be ready for greater involvement either from the bench or from the start.
But the biggest problem is the absence of Aiden McGeady. The 36-year-old has made the left-wing berth his own since the turn of the year and he has two assists from nine matches in the league. After spending most of the first half of the season sidelined he was beginning to show his worth to the team, notching an assist before being forced off with a hamstring injury during the first 45 of the 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock.
So while Kukharevych and Nisbet returning is a boost for Johnson, it doesn’t much help him in terms of his wide options.
Return Élie Youan to the left
A big call, because the Frenchman has looked good in a more central role recently, in the absence of Kukharevych and Nisbet, but his talent is clear no matter what position he plays. Were he to take up the vacancy on the left, Hibs would have a player capable of causing damage from out wide, just as McGeady was doing.
With Youan now showing consistently why Hibs were keen to bring him to Easter Road, he has a chance to keep producing the goods from a wide area, meaning Kukharevych or Nisbet could take up a central role.
Deploy Campbell on the right of an attacking midfield three
It’s been done before, and if anyone is capable of successfully filling that right-wing position it’s probably the all-action utility man. With Doyle-Hayes, Magennis, and Joe Newell all potentially available for the trip to Livingston, and Jimmy Jeggo and CJ Egan-Riley also able to play in the middle of the park, there won’t be as great a need for Campbell to play a deeper role.
Use Nisbet as a false nine / or a ten
Depending on how keen Johnson is to get all his forwards in the team, he could potentially start Campbell on the right of an attacking midfield three, Youan on the left, Kukharevych as his centre-forward and Nisbet tucked in behind. While it might seem daft not to start Nisbet up top with Kukharevych, the Scotland internationalist has the ability to drop deep and link up play. Alternatively, depending on how many minutes Johnson reckons he can get out of either forward, one could replace the other as a centre-forward.
Henderson or Magennis on the right
Against Kilmarnock, Ewan Henderson started on the right of an attacking midfield three with Campbell in the middle and McGeady on the left. The playmaker gave a good account of himself after his assist for Youan’s winner at St Mirren, and he could hold onto his place in West Lothian.
Johnson also tried Magennis wide right in the first game back after the World Cup break against Rangers at Ibrox, but it remains to be seen if he would do that again. The manager may feel there are other players who can fill that position more effectively, and there’s no denying how much more potent Magennis was when moved centrally under Jack Ross after initially filling the problem wide left role the previous season.
This is something that hasn’t really worked out too well for Hibs this season. Playing with a back four has served them well – only one of their 11 league wins has come with a back three – and the team looks more slick and cohesive in the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set-up.
Ironically, despite the loss of McGeady for what is likely to be an extended period of time, Hibs could have two forwards back available this weekend but how does Johnson fit them all in? Will the artificial surface at Livingston dictate who plays and who doesn’t? It remains to be seen.
A 3-5-2 is the obvious change if Johnson was going to alter things – it does away with traditional wingers, Hibs have the personnel to play a back three with wingbacks, there are plenty of midfielders, and enough strikers who can play centrally. But it’s a big ‘if’ Johnson changes things up.
He is unlikely to go 4-4-2 (although he did previously this season),
Bring in Tavares
Perhaps an unlikely option given how sparingly Johnson has used him so far, with the Portuguese attacker robbed of the chance to learn up close from McGeady this season, given the latter’s injuries. Tavares can play on either flank but it would still leave a vacancy on the opposing wing. Youan could be moved out wide and Nisbet or Kukharevych brought in to lead the line, or Matthew Hoppe could stand a chance of a start in a wide area.
But it doesn’t feel like Johnson will suddenly bring the attacker back into the starting line-up – especially given his struggles at the same venue in August.
One of Johnson’s biggest bugbears has been a lack of consistency in team selection due to injuries, so it will be interesting to see if he tries to keep a winning team as much as possible. This would mean Jeggo and CJ Egan-Riley anchoring the midfield, Campbell starting as the ten, and Henderson occupying the wide right role. Youan would likely shuffle across to take up McGeady’s position with Kukharevych or most likely Nisbet leading the line.
Whatever he choose to go for will leave plenty in reserve with potentially Doyle-Hayes, Newell, Magennis, Hoppe, and one of Kukharevych or Nisbet on the bench, which could prove crucial as Hibs seek a seventh match unbeaten in their revived quest for European football. Johnson has probably learned his lesson from tinkering too much with the team and he has the personnel to avoid that this time around.