Hibs' need for a robust, 'put the boot in' midfielder is clear for all to see

The ease that Hibs were brushed aside by opponents Motherwell at Fir Park was extremely concerning.

By Neil McGlade
Sunday, 1st September 2019, 11:38 am
Scott Allan endured a miserable afternoon alongside his team-mates at Fir Park. Picture: SNS
Scott Allan endured a miserable afternoon alongside his team-mates at Fir Park. Picture: SNS

Despite a bright start that saw most of the action contested inside the hosts’ half, things began to unravel right before the 1,660 visiting supporters who had made the journey to North Lanarkshire. They probably wished they hadn’t bothered.

It was another desperately disjointed performance from Paul Heckingbottom’s side who, not for the first time this season, were second best.

The manager’s decision to deploy a midfield consisting of Stevie Mallan, Scott Allan, Vykintas Slivka and Glenn Middleton was never likely to bear fruit against a much more physically robust opponent in the Steelmen.

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The aforementioned players are all cut from the same cloth in that they look to make things happen in the final third. But what about striking a balance between defence and attack? Who’s in there to do the dirty work that enables the more forward-thinking individuals of the team to exert their magic?

Josh Vela - a player Heckingbottom snapped up after leaving Bolton and someone who arrived with a reputation for taking the game by the scruff of its neck - hasn’t set the heather alight in a green-and-white jersey. He was brought on at Fir Park with little more than a couple of minutes to play with the Easter Road side’s fate already sealed.

It’s becoming clearer with each passing game that there’s a real softness about Hibs, a criticism the club has been pulled up for before under previous regimes.

It's folly to suggest replacing John McGinn because he is a one-off, a three-in-one midfielder who can defend, attack and play passes.

However, Hibs let two defensive midfielders in Mark Milligan - the captain of Australia - and Marvin Bartley, a man who on Saturday was 23 miles away from Motherwell, putting himself about for another 90 minutes as the Lions consolidated their good start to the season with a 2-1 win over St Mirren.

I’m not suggesting for one minute the absence of Bartley - or indeed Milligan, who was pretty decent during the second half of last season - is the sole factor behind Hibs’ demise, but this was the calibre of match crying out for the big man’s presence, someone with a bit of bite who isn't afraid to leave the boot in.

Hibs just haven't managed to replace those two players, and it is harming them as a soft midfield gets bullied and dominated.

It is hoped Swede Melker Hellberg, who was an unused substitute against Well, will bring a mixture of steel, presence and energy to Hibs’ engine room. However, he will need time to adapt to the Scottish game, something the Easter Road outfit – and head coach Paul Heckingbottom – are in short supply of.

A few weeks ago, this title did a piece on why Hibs couldn't afford to get caught in the middle. That's exactly what is happening and Heckingbottom needs to use the international break to sort out his dysfunctional team.