Analysis: Paul Heckingbottom's summer signings might not be so bad after all
The last time this writer covered a Hibs match I talked up performance of Christian Doidge after the striker was introduced in the 1-0 win over St Mirren. Yes, he missed a couple of sitters, but his hold-up play alongside Florian Kamberi with Scott Allan playing in the hole granted the hosts a greater attacking threat and heavily contributed to their side digging the result out.
Fast forward to the aftermath of last weekend's defeat to Hearts. In the time between, Paul Heckingbottom had failed to win a single league match and needed extra-time to defeat Greenock Morton at home in the Betfred Cup. The loss to their Edinburgh rivals was more than enough for many, with fans protesting outside after the match.
What had happened to Hibs? Well, the most consistent suggestion was that the new signings weren't good enough. Heckingbottom had started his Hibs career well with the team he inherited from Neil Lennon, but when it came to building his own squad he appeared to have grossly underestimated or misunderstood what it took to win in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Doidge, a reported £250,000 buy from Forest Green Rovers, was the poster boy for such misgivings.
Less than a week later and things may not be as dire as they previously seemed. A Hibs side absolutely bereft of confidence managed to go to Kilmarnock and keep a clean sheet through 120 minutes. They then followed that up by getting a point from the toughest assignment you can get in Scottish football, an encounter with Celtic.
Not only did the home players earn themselves a share of the spoils, many of the standout candidates for man-of-the-match came from the previously much-maligned group of new arrivals brought in over the summer.
Tom James was a little at fault for the equaliser, losing Ryan Christie in the build up, but he impressed defensively overall and has shown in previous matches that he's got a bit about him going forward. He was given the MOTM nod by the stadium announcer.
Josh Vela, by some distance, posted his best game as a Hibs player. He constantly took up intelligent positions to offer teammates avenues in which to pass the ball and beat Celtic's press. The former Bolton midfielder also battled hard in the midfield area. A lack of fight has been a real problem for the hosts so far this season, Vela must now replicate this sort of performance in some of the less high-profile encounters.
Chris Maxwell looked assured of himself in goal, while Melker Hallberg didn't look fazed sitting in front of the back four against some tremendously talented opposition.
Arguably the most impressive showing, though, came from Doidge. The striker was tasked with leading the line by himself. With Hibs defending deep at times, he was asked to operate without much support for large periods and do what he could to pull his under-pressure teammates up the park. It was a task he did very well.
He linked well when the options were there, won his fair share of flick-ons against the towering Christopher Jullien and made intelligent runs off the ball - highlighted by the opening goal, where he broke free of the offside trapped and saw his low cross diverted past Fraser Forster by Kristoffer Ajer.
Doidge showed that, when Hibs are looking to play with five in midfield, he's the correct choice as the lone striker. However, that isn't to say that he and Kamberi couldn't play together. Just like the St Mirren game, the two together supported by Scott Allan in the No.10 role is a perfectly viable means of breaking down an opponent, either in a 4-4-2 diamond or a 3-5-2. It doesn't just need to be a final roll of the dice when stuffy opponents are proving to be too difficult to navigate past, .
It was clear at the beginning of the season that Heckingbottom didn't know his best XI and, to be honest, that might still be the case. The team that started against Celtic, plus Ryan Porteous and Martin Boyle when available, should be the strongest at dealing with tougher opponents, but the manager will still need to draw up something that will help his side take care of business at Easter Road against those expected to leave with nothing.
At least now he seems to have a group that are beginning to find form and build a bit of confidence, which should make the job of discovering the perfect blend a lot easier.