Jack Ross vindicated by taking a bold decision against Aberdeen
Hibs boss plays to strengths with forward-thinking players
It’s been a long time coming but, at last, Hibs came up with the sort of performance we’ve only seen glimpses of so far this season.
There have been spells in games, 20 minutes or so here and there, perhaps a whole half or an hour but time after time the Easter Road side came up short, simply unable to put it together for an entire 90 minutes.
Something has always let them down, a lack of ruthlessness in the opposition’s penalty box, that seemingly incessant stream of costly late goals conceded, a lack of concentration at critical times, a slackness in possession or poor decision making.
It’s all added up to too many precious points being lost, Hibs, without a clean sheet since the opening day of the Premiership season, repeatedly managing to surrender a winning position on numerous occasions. Their previous two matches, against Kilmarnock and Ross County, were a case in point, a solitary point taken when it could quite easily have been all six.
To be fair to the players, up until that loss in Dingwall last midweek they had put together a run of nine matches unbeaten – albeit it included too many draws – while new head coach Jack Ross had enjoyed wins in each of his first three games in charge, results which hoisted the the team into the top six.
Even so, it would be fair to say that few observers would have predicted the outcome of this one, the visit of Aberdeen signalling the start of a testing schedule with games against Celtic, Rangers and city rivals Hearts still to come.
A problem facing Ross is that while he insists he inherited a good squad of players from his predecessor Paul Heckingbottom, it’s one which is unbalanced, a surfeit of forward-thinking players from middle to front with Melker Hallberg pressed into service in that holding role vacated by the departures of Marvin Bartley and Mark Milligan over the summer.
Ross, however, wants to see his side go at the opposition, admitting that his team selection had been “bold” adding: “It’s the way I like to play but you need to have the players to do it. There’s no point in trying to play on the front foot if I do not have good players in that area. But I do and we are working a lot on how to get the best from them in the right areas but it’s not easy at times to get that right.”
In full flow as Hibs were against Aberdeen they can be a joy to watch, the return of Martin Boyle from a year wrecked by a knee injury which required two operations adding pace, drive and directness, the Australian internationalist earning his standing ovation with two superbly taken goals.
Flo Kamberi’s solo run added a third to give Hibs their biggest league win over the Dons since a Peter Cormack hat-trick inspired a 6-2 win at Pittodrie exactly 51 years previously. However, as much as those goals were lapped up by the home fans, that long awaited shut out at the other end was, insisted Ross, just as important, Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano marking his return after 13 matches out with a stunning double save from James Wilson and Sam Cosgrove to set up that second-half demolition.
“Psychologically it was important,” said the head coach, “Because the more it gets spoken about the more it becomes something for the players to become concerned about. I’ve had it in previous jobs, sometimes you can feel it in the air when you get a goal ahead and perhaps people worry that you will concede.
“So I think the last 15 minutes was an important period and to have those three goals made it a bit more relaxing than it normally is. But it was still good to see out that period and come away with that tangible reward of a clean sheet.”
Ross agreed that Marciano’s double save was “a big moment” in the game and that he’d “taken the opportunity” offered as he replaced
Chris Maxwell between the sticks.
Pointing out he also has Hungarian internationalist Adam Bogdan, he said: “I’ve said I’ll judge the goalkeepers as I find them and they are all good goalkeepers. It’s unusual to come in to a situation like that, usually you have one who is further ahead than the others.
“Ofir has been training well, I’ve been impressed by him. He’s a very good shot-stopper, I see it every single day. Aberdee have a terrific goalkeeper in Joe Lewis and he had a big save in the early minutes and then Ofir makes just as big a save.
“So from that point of view he has taken the opportunity, that’s all you can ask.”
Hibs (4-1-3-2): Marciano; Naismith, Porteous, Hanlon, Stevenson; Hallberg (Slivka 70); Boyle (Jackson 76), Allan, Mallan; Kamberi (Shaw 83), Doidge. Substitutes not used: Maxwell, Horgan, James, F Murray.
Aberdeen (4-2-3-1): Lewis; Logan (Campbell 63), Taylor, McKenna, Considine; Vyner (Main 63), Ferguson; Wilson (Hedges 63), Gallagher, Leigh; Cosgrove. Substitutes not used: Cerny, Devlin, Anderson, McLennan.