How Kyle Magennis can fill Stevie Mallan Hibs void - and what role he might play this season
Two games, two wins, and two assists, just about: Hibs’ final two pre-season games have been kind to Kyle Magennis, who has thrived in a central role.
It was his corner that led to Daniel Mackay’s winner against Arsenal, Paul Hanlon heading the deep ball back across goal for the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle man to knock it in from close range. Against Raith Rovers, an inch-perfect free-kick from the player known as Ginto teed up Ryan Porteous for a straightforward headed goal.
It is the return of Scott Allan that has got most tongues wagging ahead of the new campaign – understandably, of course, given everything he went through last year, and what he can bring to this Hibs side – but with deadball expert Stevie Mallan having moved on by signing a two-year deal with Yeni Malatyaspor, all of a sudden there appears to be a Ginto-shaped gap in the Hibs midfield.
Magennis endured a frustrating debut season at Easter Road with illness and niggly injuries preventing him from getting a proper run of games under his belt, but still managed 23 appearances in all competitions and one goal, even if much of his game-time came as a late substitute and often on the right of midfield.
So far this pre-season, more out of necessity than anything else, Magennis has found himself playing more centrally, with manager Jack Ross tweaking his tactics in the absence of Christian Doidge.
While the Welshman is on the cusp of a return to full fitness, the former St Mirren man’s performances suggest that, should Doidge take a little while longer to get back up to speed, there are plenty of alternative options for the coaching staff to explore.
Even with the striker available, having the personnel to change things mid-game has been a hallmark of Hibs under Ross – and Magennis can play a big part in that.
Against Raith Rovers on Friday night, Hibs lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. The back four picked itself – Paul McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, and Josh Doig – with Magennis joined by Allan and Joe Newell in the midfield three. Up top Kevin Nisbet was flanked by Stevie Bradley and Martin Boyle.
This allowed Allan to pull the strings from a slightly more advanced position – something Ross is keen for him to do – with Magennis and Newell doing the dirty work.
The playmaker had a hand in all three goals, winning the free kick that led to the opener; feeding Nisbet in the lead-up to the second, and winning the ball in a 50/50 in the centre-circle ahead of the third.
But notable, too, were the contributions by Magennis and Newell. The former supplied the cross for Porteous to net the opener and the latter set Boyle free on the left flank with a perfectly-weighted ball to engineer the third.
It is unlikely to be the last time this particular trio forms the midfield.
Bend it like Mallan?
Mallan’s first season at Easter Road, in which he picked up the player of the year award, was marked by his frequent efforts from distance. Whether from dead balls or open play, he had a knack of hitting the back of the net – just ask NSI Runavik goalkeepers Tórður Thomsen and Eli Joensen, who both conceded twice to the player during the Europa League qualifiers in 2018.
Magennis is not a carbon copy of his former St Mirren team-mate, but he does possess a fearsome shot, cracking a 25-yard effort off the upright during his league debut for Hibs away to Ross County and given how few goals the Hibs midfield contributed last season, having a player who has that in their locker should certainly help.
He has had few opportunities in front of goal partly, one suspects, because of his predominantly wide role up until now but with Mallan departing, there may already be a replacement howitzer expert in the ranks – although with Allan back to full fitness and able to supply the forwards with those killer passes there will be less pressure on Magennis and his other midfield colleagues to improve on last year’s stats, added to which Magennis’ skill from set-pieces may see him play the role of provider more than goalscorer.
Mixing up the midfield
There was a feeling last year that for all the midfielders at Hibs’ disposal, they were just too similar. Fans conducted endless debates about which combinations worked, and which didn’t.
It is worth remembering that Allan’s enforced absence made life difficult.
So did the form of Boyle, Doidge, and Nisbet, albeit for different reasons; likewise Jamie Murphy’s injury struggles.
Some games will call for a more defensive approach, possibly with two pivots in Jake Doyle-Hayes and Alex Gogic; some for five in the middle, others two.
Magennis is versatile enough that he is an option for more than one set-up and there is a feeling that Hibs possess a selection of midfielders that will allow the side to adapt no matter the opposition – something that could be vital with European games on the schedule.
Magennis to deliver…?
If he is afforded more luck than he was last season Magennis could end up being a key player this term. Hibs don’t dish out five-year contracts all that often so there are clearly high hopes for the former Buddies youngster, who was captaining the Paisley side despite his tender years prior to his move east.
Mouthwatering, too, is the prospect of experiencing Magennis in full flow. He was still recovering from serious injury when he joined Hibs and there is real excitement among supporters at what he can do this season.
The real test will be doing it week in, week out as Hibs look to build on the previous campaign but if his pre-season displays are anything to go by, he should manage that just fine.