After a flying start to his stint at Hibs, Matty Kennedy has since had his wings clipped.
The on-loan Everton wide player made an instant impression at Easter Road with some eye-catching performances, particularly in his first two starts for the club, at home to Falkirk in the league and Dumbarton in the League Cup, back in August.
However, the 20-year-old has not started a match for more than two months since he dropped out of the team after the September 13 defeat away to Queen of the South, Hibs’ opponents at Easter Road this afternoon.
Kennedy’s omission from the team, however, was more down to tactical changes than any significant loss of form. After the defeat at Palmerston – Hibs’ fourth in five Championship matches – Alan Stubbs felt he needed to shake things up. Kennedy became one of the fall guys as the head coach opted for an approach which did not require conventional wingers.
First, Stubbs tried a 3-5-2 formation for four successive games, with the only width coming from wing-backs Lewis Stevenson and David Gray. It worked pretty well, with Hibs unbeaten in them all. Injuries to centre-backs Liam Fontaine and Jordon Forster prompted another tweak in the set-up, Stubbs adopting a 4-3-1-2 for the four most recent games.
Again wide players were rendered redundant, apart from substitute outings, and Hibs continued to look a more effective unit. With the team’s only defeat in their last eight games coming in a penalty shoot-out against Dundee United last month, Kennedy admits he can have few complaints. However, after not featuring at all for the three games that followed the Queens defeat, the former Kilmarnock player went to speak to Stubbs, whom he knows well from their time together at Everton.
“I was disappointed when I first got dropped because I got man of the match two weeks in a row [against Falkirk and Dumbarton] and then played well the next week,” he said. “I went into the manager’s office after I hadn’t started for a couple of weeks and asked what I needed to do to get in the team and he said there was nothing more I could do. He said I’d been arguably the best player when I’d been playing but that he needed to change things because we were losing too many goals at the back. He felt he needed to change it a bit and that meant going without out-and-out wingers, which obviously I am. It’s suited the team better which is the most important thing.
“The gaffer’s feeling bad about it because he knows I’ve been playing well but he can’t play me because the team’s been playing well in a different formation. That’s fair enough, I’ve no arguments with that. I can’t say the gaffer is wrong to leave me out because the team is getting results.”
The winger has had the solace of coming off the bench in four of Hibs’ last five matches, his most effective cameo coming in that League Cup tie against United. After scoring Hibs’ third equaliser in a 3-3 draw, his night was soured slightly when he was one of two Hibees to miss a penalty as they lost the shootout.
Nonetheless, being at the sharp end again came as a welcome boost for a player who believes he should now be playing on a regular basis. “I’ve always been full of confidence since I came because I’ve not played badly since I came here,” he said. “But it helps your confidence when you come off the bench, play well, go by your defender most times and score a goal. I was buzzing after scoring and then after I missed the penalty my head was gone. It was gutting. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was devastated. Bigger players than me have missed penalties, though. Jason Cummings was telling me as well about how he missed the penalty that got Hibs relegated and Liam Craig missed one against Hearts. It happens. The gaffer phoned me on my way home that night and said I was brilliant when I came on and that I wasn’t to worry about the penalty.”
Kennedy has been pigeon-holed as a wide player, but feels he is also capable of operating more centrally if it helps him get a game. An attacking vacancy is guaranteed to arise today, with top scorer Dominique Malonga on international duty with Congo. “I’ve mostly played wide in my career but I’d been top scorer in the Kilmarnock youth team and played as a striker for the first team in pre-season  just before Everton bought me,” he explained. “I like playing in the hole as well – the gaffer played me there a few times at Everton. I think he prefers me playing wide. I’d like to play in the hole more but I think most managers prefer me out wide.”