John Greechan analyses Nick Montgomery’s plan for Hibs - deep analytical dive
John Greechan takes a look at what Nick Montgomery has planned for Hibs in this in-depth analytical piece
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As Nick Montgomery prepares for his first game in charge of Hibs, fans will obviously be wondering what changes – from the drastic to the minimal, the tactical to the selection of personnel – he has up his sleeve.
Which is where analysis, the science of studying the past to better predict the future, comes in.
Looking at his Central Cost Mariners, what do we know about the new manager’s preferred playing style and methods?
More importantly, how might the game plan deployed in winning the A-League title translate to the unique environment of Scotland’s elite football competition?
Starting with the basics, Monty’s Mariners were very much a 4-4-2 team, lining up in that formation for a whopping 76 per cent of all game time last season, according to Wyscout.
As you can see from Photo 1, this means two solid banks of four getting behind the ball when out of possession – but often with one of the strikers dropping a little deeper to act as a sort of freelance disruptor.
Going forward, they like to get plenty of touches in the opposition box and catch defences off guard.
If there’s a progressive ball on, something that will break the lines and put opponents on the back foot, this head coach wants his players to take it.
Photo 2 shows a typical Mariners counterattack, players flooding forward to join the front man.
Using this approach, Central Coast averaged over two goals a game – and were one of the best teams in the country when it came to creating chances.
Using a strike pairing of ex-Hibee Jason Cummings and Marco Tulio, supported by wingers able to cut in and cause chaos, Montgomery saw very little need to tinker with a winning shape (see Photo 3).
When it came to defending, Montgomery’s men put a lot of pressure on the ball. A lot.
Wyscout use a statistic called Challenge Intensity, based on the number of tackles, interceptions and loose ball duels per minute of an opponent’s possession, which basically measures how hard a team works to get the ball back.
The Mariners finished top of the rankings in that metric last season, a key contributor in building one of the best defensive records in the division.
And anyone watching video of their games quickly comes to understand why they were so hard to break down.
A lot of the time, Central Coast looked to lay traps in specific areas of the pitch, with Photo 4 showing how they cut down their opponents’ options before mugging them up a dark alley brilliantly disguised as a patch of open space.
And Photo 5 provides a nice snapshot of the intensity and teamwork they brought to pressing in the opposition third.
How much of this can Montgomery bring with him to the Scottish Premiership, a league where teams tend to overload the central midfield area?
Under Lee Johnson, Hibs used a few different formations. But barely looked sideways at a 4-4-2, a shape and system often misunderstood and maligned by football hipsters always seeking to reinvent the wheel.
Montgomery is a smart enough coach to know that starting positions are just that, a jumping-off point for a more nuanced set of game principles.
So, yes, Hibs could line up as shown in Photo 6. If he wants to make changes immediately – and believes that he’s got the players to meet the demands of his favourite formation.
Set against the desire to crack on and start as he means to continue, however, might be concerns over fitting square pegs into round holes. Not to mention the need for every single player to be 100 per cent up to speed with a plan before it’s put into action at Rugby Park.
Football management isn’t an exact science. It’s more like alchemy.
But Hibs hired Montgomery because of what he achieved in the A-League. At some point soon, he’ll want to implement the winning formula he used Down Under.