Eddie May's Hibs calls will be of interest - a lot is riding on St Johnstone clash
Interim boss and his coaching staff must, at least, keep Hibs' heads above water before new man comes in
For the second time this calendar year, Eddie May has been summoned to take the reins at Hibs on a caretaker basis.
On the last occasion he was drafted - reluctantly - into the front line, the team languished eighth in the Premiership but were a relatively-safe 16 points clear of the bottom two and in no imminent danger of being dragged into a relegation battle. That was at a time when Neil Lennon was on his way out and May and Grant Murray oversaw two wins (against St Mirren and Raith Rovers) and two defeats (against Celtic and Aberdeen) before the arrival of Heckingbottom.
As May steps back into the breach this time, a little over nine months after his last stint at the helm, the situation is significantly more precarious, with Hibs just a point off the foot of the table and facing the possibility of spending the November international break in the bottom two if they don’t win away to St Johnstone tomorrow. It would require a defeat in Perth coupled with a draw between the current bottom two of Hearts and St Mirren at Tynecastle for Hibs to end this weekend bottom of the table (by virtue of having an inferior goal difference).
Even if this grim scenario does not come to fruition, May will be mindful of the need to keep Hibs above water for the duration of his time in charge, which could also incorporate the home game against Motherwell in a fortnight and then a midweek trip to St Mirren. The last thing a new manager needs is to be picking up a confidence-shorn team languishing bottom of the league at the end of November with a hazardous festive fixture list - Aberdeen home, Celtic away, Rangers home, Hearts away, Livingston away - looming before the winter break.
The job of May, Murray and Steven Whittaker - the third member of the interim triumvirate - is pretty straightforward: stem the bleeding in order to give the new man the best possible chance of breathing new life back into Hibs. This will be done, in short, by picking up some points and restoring morale levels within a group of players who haven’t won a match in 90 minutes for more than three months.
The caretaking management team have some big calls to make for tomorrow’s trip to Perth. Needless to say, this is not a Hibs team which picks itself. The way the side was set up under Heckingbottom patently didn’t work, so there is plenty scope to change things around both in terms of formation and personnel. The goalkeeping position will be an area of focus. Chris Maxwell has started each of the the last eight matches, and the team has generally enjoyed better results than they had been getting when Ofir Marciano was between the sticks earlier in the season. However, Maxwell was at fault for Celtic’s fourth goal in last weekend’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat and the dropping of Marciano, who remains hugely popular among supporters, was deemed a harsh decision by many. It will be intriguing to see who gets the nod tomorrow.
Similarly at right-back, where neither Tom James and Jason Naismith have looked particularly convincing. Then there is the hitherto dysfunctional midfield, which needs some attention in order to become stronger when placed under pressure. May has the option of bringing Vykintas Slivka into the mix to add some fresh energy after his recent injury, while the caretaker may also look at a complete change of shape. The 4-4-2 diamond and the 3-5-2 formation both served Hibs well under Heckingbottom’s predecessors Lennon and Alan Stubbs and, with the players available, would appear worthy of serious consideration at this point.
Any system that involves playing two central strikers has to be prominent in the thoughts of the coaching staff as Christian Doidge and Florian Kamberi haven’t been able to operate at their best as a lone striker in recent months. Martin Boyle is also pressing for a first league start of 2019 and could be deployed as a striker, a right winger, or even a wing-back if he is deemed fit enough. There is also the possibility of bringing Oli Shaw back into the mix after he drifted out of contention under Heckingbottom. The 21-year-old striker’s last start, and also his last goal, for the first team came when May was in charge previously. Fraser Murray is another homegrown player who will hope that the temporary instalment of academy chief May at first-team level will allow him to return to the side after becoming marginalised by Heckingbottom.
The make-up of tomorrow’s starting line-up holds plenty of intrigue. There’s a lot riding on it.