How Scott Allan can help Hibs build on last season – and possibly go one better
As Scott Allan trotted over to take a corner during the first half of Hibs' 2-1 victory over Arsenal, the appreciative roar that greeted the playmaker belied the 1,800-odd fans inside the stadium.
The classy midfielder looked back to his best, fewer than 12 months on from when he first started to feel short of breath and heavily fatigued during training sessions.
There will have been a time when Easter Road supporters feared they would never see him in a Hibs shirt again and there will have been times when Allan feared he wouldn’t kick a ball again, so to have him bamboozling the likes of Sead Kolasinac and Mohamed Elneny with those sweet reverse passes is a mark of just how far he has come.
After his goal against Stoke City earlier this month there must be cautious optimism that the former Dundee United youth is eager to make up for lost time.
Last season there were matches in which Hibs would have dearly loved to bring on a fully-fit Allan to pull some strings, unlock some defences, and lay goals on a plate for the strikers. None more so than the Scottish Cup final for which he was ineligible, having taken the decision to head out on loan in a bid to boost his match fitness.
Hibs are not short of options in midfield. Alex Gogic, Melker Hallberg, Kyle Magennis, and Joe Newell are all fine players but – and this is in no way meant as a criticism – none of them are Scott Allan
His availability allows Jack Ross greater tactical options: 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-4-1-1 – and not just out of necessity. Hibs often lacked a plan B last season and while it would be folly to present Allan as a saviour of sorts, it will be fascinating to see how his vision and eye for a pass can help lift the side when they need it.
Speaking after his 60 minutes against Arsenal, Ross said of Allan: “He provides a quality that not a lot of players offer you.
"He sees forward passes that other don’t and we encourage him to do that. It’s about encouraging him to stay high enough up the park at times but he’s doing that a lot better as well.”
The Allan effect
Winger Stevie Bradley caught the eye during the Gunners game, not least for smacking an effort off the base of Arthur Okonkwo’s left-hand post shortly before half-time.
No prizes for guessing the identity of the architect for that chance.
The teenage wideman was described as having “a bit of chat and a bit of attitude” by Newell last season and on his first senior showing that lasted longer than a few minutes, gave a good account of himself.
He wasn’t the only winger to benefit from Allan’s eye for a pass with Martin Boyle out on the left having a few pinged out his way, one leading to a shot that Okonkwo had to be alert to keep out.
Last season Hibs were fortunate that Boyle, Christian Doidge, and Kevin Nisbet each reached double figures but Ross has openly admitted that the team relied too heavily on the trio for goals.
With Allan available once more, the possibilities are almost endless. A look at the 29-year-old’s stats in green and white over his three spells reveals he has been involved in ten goals with Boyle, five with Paul Hanlon, and four with Doidge.
Provided he can pick up where he left off, no wonder Ross reckons it will be like having a new player.
Whetting fans’ appetites for the return of the number 23, the Hibs boss said: “I’m pleased with what he has been producing in pre-season.
“Last season was a difficult one for him but he also watched us having a good season so he knows that he has to be at his best to make an impact in the team.
"But he has done that in pre-season. It is like having a new signing.”
Listening to Allan speak about his journey back from the brink of forced retirement is eye-opening.
Apart from his ambassadorial work with Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation, he is now very much a role-model for youngsters with similar conditions.
There is a steely determination behind the words; a quiet confidence that he brings to the surface in those Hollywood passes on the pitch – and a desire to do one particular thing.
"I want to get as long a run in the team as possible and produce moments for the fans so they can go home happy. It’s probably why I have a good relationship with the fans at Hibs – I can give them things to remember in certain games,” he told Sky Sports this week.
“I think I can offer something a bit different in the final third – cutting open defences is in my game – so if I can stay fit and operate at the level I know I can then I think I’ll be able to have an impact on the team.”
Allan has had three spells at Hibs but missed out on the Scottish Cup win, the Championship title, and even last season’s third-place finish by dint of his loan spell at Inverness rendering him ineligible to feature post-January.
For what he's given to Hibs, it feels as though some silverware would be the least he deserves.
"We want to have a successful season, maybe go one better than last year and get back to the cup finals.”
If Hibs are to build on last season and do what they couldn’t last season in the cup competitions, one suspects Allan will have a big say in it.
Even if he doesn't, it will simply be a joy to see him back on a football pitch doing what he loves.