Hibs’ pre-season return: Where does the squad need strengthened?
As Hibs prepare for their return to pre-season training on Thursday, DAVID HARDIE takes a look at how the first-team squad is shaping up for the 2019-20 campaign.
Hibs were pretty well served in the goalkeeping department last season with two international stoppers, Israel’s Ofir Marciano and Adam Bogdan – boasting 20 caps for Hungary – battling for the gloves.
Bogdan, however, was one of 12 first-team players who left Easter Road at the end of last season, his loan spell with Liverpool having come to an end. The 31-year-old has since been released by the Anfield outfit, his contract having expired.
A return to Easter Road looks highly unlikely and, with Ross Laidlaw having made the move to Ross County in search of regular first-team football, head coach Paul Heckingbottom has currently been left with Marciano as his only experienced goalkeeper.
Polish youngster Kevin Dabrowski got no further than the bench last season while further down the pecking order is Paddy Martin.
As such, Heckingbottom clearly needs to bring in another goalkeeper with Preston’s Chris Maxwelll said to be on his wish list, the 28-year-old having made more than 330 first-team appearances in a career which has also seen him play at Wrexham, Fleetwood, Cambridge and Charlton.
A season-long loan deal is believed to be in the offing although the cubs have yet to strike a deal on Hibs’ contribution to his wages.
Arguably the most experienced area of Heckingbottom’s squad, it has been further strengthened by the arrival of former Middlesbrough defender Adam Jackson a player the head coach knows well having signed him for Barnsley in the past.
The return of Ryan Porteous, out for the second half of the season following a knee operation, will be like a new signing for Heckingbottom, who has yet to see the Scotland Under-21 player in action.
However, many will still expect to see the familiar back-line of David Gray, Darren McGregor, Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson–- with an astonishing 1146 appearances in a green-and-white shirt between them – in place when the serious action gets underway again.
Steven Whittaker found his opportunities limited by injury in the second half of last season but the 35-year-old could still prove to be a valuable asset given his versatility.
Sean Mackie will offer cover on the left as he did on occasion last season but few would be surprised to see a player brought in who can provide back-up for Gray on the right.
Again the middle of the park is an area where Heckingbottom looks comfortably off for numbers, Rotherham’s Joe Newell added in recent days to offer another option on the left. However, with due respect to Newell, it’s the long-anticipated return of Scott Allan which has excited the Hibs support, who know just how much he excelled in his previous two spells with the club.
Allan, signed by former boss Neil Lennon on a pre-contract from Celtic, has already been brought up to speed by Heckingbottom as to what will be required of him but fans will be looking to him to be the playmaker.
Alongside Martin Boyle – like Porteous poised to return after knee surgery – Daryl Horgan, Stevie Mallan and young Fraser Murray, Allan will form part of a very attack-minded midfield backed up by Vykintas Slivka although many will be looking for an “enforcer” along the lines of Marvin Bartley or Mark Milligan to add a bit more steel in that department. Heckingbottom also retains hopes of bringing Belgian midfielder Stephane Omeonga – so impressive while on loan from Italian club Genoa last term – back to Easter Road.
With a question mark over whether Marc McNulty will be back at Easter Road, Heckingbottom’s front line looks very thin with only Florian Kamberi – who endured a mixed season following his goal-strewn loan spell – and youngster Oli Shaw currently at his disposal. Boyle, of course, can use his devastating pace through the centre, but it’s an area the head coach has acknowledged he wants to beef up and, even if McNulty returns, few would be surprised to see another recognised goal-getter arriving.