John Greechan’s pre-derby Tactics Zone as Hibs analysed in depth ahead of Hearts fixture

Hibs head to Gorgie as a work in process - but with a solid game plan
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Trust in the process means believing that, if you keep creating inviting openings and tantalising three-quarter chances, goals will ultimately follow.

As Hibs head to Tynecastle for Nick Montgomery’s first Edinburgh derby as head coach, then, the new gaffer may well adopt an “If it ain’t broke …” approach to his team.

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In plotting to take down a Hearts side who have just won in Dingwall using almost an exact replica of the Dark Blues’ 3-5-2 that proved so stuffy at Easter Road on Saturday, however, you can bet that Montgomery will spend this week doing more than just tinkering around the edges.

Starting with the obvious, Hibs didn’t do much wrong – bar the important act of scoring – in their nil-nil home draw with doughty Dundee, with the number crunchers responsible for measuring these things giving the home side an xG of 2.15.

A way of digging deeper into the quality of chances generated in a game that saw Hibs credited with nine efforts on target, this figure basically means that they SHOULD have scored at least twice on the day. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, right?

On another day, they take a couple of the better opportunities, win maybe 2-1 and head to Gorgie on the back of three straight victories.

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But there were issues. Reasons why Hibs couldn’t quite find a way to goal. Problems they faced when Dundee were in possession, too.

The visitors’ wingbacks were more than just a nuisance, their ability to drive infield helping to overload the central midfield pairing of Jimmy Jeggo and Joe Newell with bodies in motion.

As Photo 1 shows, a bit of sharp footwork by Owen Beck has forced Jeggo to step up into the gap. With Newell dragged away by a runner, Lyall Cameron has found himself in lots of dangerous space.

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Photo 1

That 3 v 2 advantage for Dundee in central midfield was always going to be a problem in need of solving. Hibs tried any number of ways to square the circle, so to speak.

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Photo 2 shows an example of the issue. Sure, Newell could drive into the area highlighted and receive a simple pass. But then what?

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Photo 2

A more obvious opportunity to break the lines is illustrated in Photo 3. If you’ve got a player as smart and inventive as Adam Le Fondre dropping into that much space and demanding the ball, give it to him. Immediately.

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Photo 3

Against a Hearts team who like to press high and hard, especially on home turf, it’ll be interesting to see how well Hibs play the patient build-up game implemented by Montgomery and his coaching staff.

Take a look at Photo 4 not merely as an indicator of their intent, but a reminder of Jeggo’s importance to what Hibs are trying to do.

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Photo 4
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True, the Aussie international may not play many 50-yard passes to eliminate half a dozen opponents while finding a team-mate who doesn’t even need to break stride before tapping the ball into an empty net.

But sureness of touch is key to playing through the press. Jeggo is showing himself capable of providing that vital link.

It would be wrong to suggest that Hibs are all about patience and plotting their way around or through an opponent, of course.

Elie Youan, who actually managed to create a fair bit even on a very obvious off day, is still capable of just flying into space on the flank and generating a chance with his pace, footwork and final ball (see Photo 5).

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Photo 5
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But there is a definite method in how Montgomery wants his men to play. If that means taking time work just the right opening, so be it.

Take a look at Photo 6, which shows Jeggo – that man again – dropping very deep to get on the ball. It’s already taken half a dozen passes just to create this set-up.

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Photo 6

By the time we get to Photo 7, with Le Fondre about to play a quite delicious back-heel through to Martin Boyle, Hibs have played a further nine passes, switched play twice – and dragged their opponents all over the park.

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Photo 7

It was a game plan that nearly came off, forcing Dundee to defend deeper and deeper, which opened up chances for anyone lurking on the edge of the box (see Photo 8).

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Photo 8
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If Hibs generate that kind of chance against Hearts on Saturday, Montgomery will feel pretty satisfied with his week’s work on the training ground. Which is sure to be intense.

Amid all the talk about changing mentality and attitudes, plenty of Hibs players have mentioned the new gaffer’s tactical flexibility; there are a good half dozen ways to play the basic 4-4-2 set-up the new gaffer has brought with him from Central Coast Mariners.

Look beyond the formation, then. Pay attention to the subtle shifts that might make all the difference.

Montgomery clearly trusts in his process. A goal or two in Gorgie – just one more than the hosts - would help convert any remaining doubters.

John Greechan is a UEFA-qualified coach and holder of the Certificate in Advanced Tactical Analysis from Barca Innovation Hub Universitas, among other analysis and coaching qualifications.