Identity crisis no problem for goal-hungry Hibs all-rounder
Campbell warming to role as Number Nine-and-a-Half
It’s clearly going to take time for Josh Campbell to adjust to the sudden identity crisis. You can’t expect a footballer to forget a lifetime of positional instructions, requirements and nuances just because a new gaffer has decided to throw him into an unfamiliar role.
As long as it means getting among the goals, though, the 23-year-old could get used to life as a centre forward. However uncomfortable the transition might be at times.
Deployed as a second striker in a very slightly modified 4-4-2 against St Mirren on Wednesday night, Campbell made the most of his first start under Nick Montgomery by opening the scoring.
His fourth goal of the season was the highlight of an all-action performance from a player normally used as an attacking midfielder, with his willingness to run channels and occupy defenders benefiting strike partner Dylan Vente enormously.
Given more time and space, Vente set up Campbell for the opener – a powerful low strike from the edge of the box – and bagged a second assist later in a game that ended 2-2 thanks to St Mirren’s injury-time equaliser.
Asked how he’d feel about playing centre forward more regularly, a grinning Campbell said: “If I'm scoring goals, I don't mind it! If I'm scoring goals, I’m happy, and if I'm in the team, I’m happy. I think I did alright.”
Working under a new boss who is very firm in his views about the merits of a 4-4-2, Campbell quickly understood that he couldn’t just wait for the coaching team to decide that what they really needed was a traditional No. 10 to play in the golden zone between midfield and attack.
But conversations with Montgomery – and drills working specifically on promoting a CAM to play in a front two – gave him hope.
Admitting that he had been something of a square peg in a team full of round holes, he said: “I have just been biding my time.
“I have not been in the plans, but the team has been doing well and playing with a new philosophy - and maybe I don't fit into that at times. That’s fine.
“But I have just been working away behind the scenes with the coaches and then the gaffer gave me this opportunity - and I think I did alright.
“It can be frustrating (being out of the team) but he is a good manager, and he speaks really well.
“He has been great with me, telling me what I need to work on. We have been doing that in training and I showed that by scoring one of the goals.
“He speaks to me in training, little one to ones, little conversations - and the drills that we do are sometimes based around an attacking midfielder playing as a striker and getting into the box.
“That goal was part of what we’ve worked on at the training ground.
“There are a few injuries, obviously, and I am not a natural out and out striker - but I can drop into the little pockets. He just said I should be busy and get the team up the pitch.
“He wanted me to use my body and get goal scoring opportunities. And I did that.
“I thought I took my goal well. That’s me in between the green zone and the penalty spot - and I feel I took my goal alright.
“Football is a mental sport and you have got to find ways to get better at things.
“This is a different manager, who has a different philosophy, and he has different ideas. So it is just a case of learning those ideas, taking it - and adding it to your game.”
Clearly a solid professional with plenty of capacity for personal development, Campbell actually showed enough in his performance to suggest that Montgomery doesn’t need to rush Martin Boyle back from a niggling injury. He could also allow Boyle to revert to a place on the wing, while keeping Campbell in situ – at least until Adam Le Fondre returns to fitness.
With Kilmarnock visiting Easter Road tomorrow, few in the home support will complain about the who and how of the performance – as long as they break this agonising run of seven games without a win.
Campbell said: “We feel we are playing well every week - but every week we are just a wee bit away from coming away with all three points. It’s a bit of a downer but there are big characters in that changing room, players who know how to win, so we believe it will be alright on Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s playing on our minds, it is just down to decision making and the simple basics of football, like clear your lines and other stuff like that.
“I think it’s just decision making and knowing when to dribble the ball, when to pass it, what to do in certain areas. It’s about knowing when to clear your lines and get up the pitch. So, it is decision making, that’s all it is.”