Hibs transfer window: What positions could Jack Ross look at strengthening?
The Easter Road side has an opportunity to enhance its playing pool next month - and here's where they should start, writes Neil McGlade
Traditionally, the January transfer window isn’t a buyer’s market. However, if Jack Ross needed a reminder that the Hibs squad he inherited is in need of some fresh blood, then Sunday's limp performance against Livingston will have given him food for thought.
Three days on from the elation at turning over city rivals Hearts on their own patch for the second time in just over six months, the Easter Road men resembled a different side at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Calls to strengthen the current squad have been heard for some time, long before Ross’ predecessor Paul Heckingbottom was shown the door last month. It is by no means a recent observation from those in the stands, nor is it alien to the recruitment department at East Mains.
It is no secret that the club operates on a modest budget and, as with the rest of the Premiership outwith the Old Firm, take a more measured approach to transfer business, particularly in January.
This will be no different for Ross and his backroom team when the window opens for business tomorrow morning.
So, where are the obvious shortcomings with this current squad, that Ross describes as having done “okay” since he took the reins?
The most obvious blemish on the Easter Road side’s report card so far lies in defence.
The Hibees have managed just three clean sheets in 21 Premiership matches to date – against St Mirren on the opening day of the season and this month’s victories over Aberdeen and Hearts. Add in a goals against tally of 36 - the second-worst in the league - and it becomes clear a new defender should be high up on the club's list of priorities.
The return of captain David Gray and centre-back Darren McGregor is a welcome boost. The latter turned in a fantastic individual display at Tynecastle last Thursday, his first start in more than four months, but both are prone to injury and aren't getting any younger.
Paul Hanlon has not hit the high standards of previous campaigns so far, while Ryan Porteous needs to learn to channel his enthusiasm in the correct manner. There is competition for places across the back four, with Adam Jackson and Tom James both awaiting an opportunity to impress while current starters Lewis Stevenson and Jason Naismith occupy the full-back positions.
That said, the presence of another experienced centre-half would stand Hibs in good stead. The majority of goals the team have conceded this term have come through the more central areas.
Moving further up the park, Melker Hallberg has taken to Scottish football like a duck to water. The Swede's influence and combative qualities in the heart of the Hibs midfield have, I feel, somewhat been overlooked since his arrival in the summer.
He is a vital cog in the engine room that enables more forward-thinking players Scott Allan, Martin Boyle, Stevie Mallan and Daryl Horgan to carve out opportunities in an around the opposition's box.
But should Hallberg succumb to injury or suspension, there isn't another player in the current squad who can fill that void - and the former Vejle player, while versatile, is more suited to a box-to-box role than the defensive midfield duties with which he is currently tasked.
The summer departure of Marvin Bartley has arguably left Hibs short of a midfield enforcer, which has in turn increased the pressure on the defence.
Vykintas Slivka isn't built to impose the robustness or physicality that the Scandinavian has in abundance and Josh Vela, a summer arrival from Bolton, and has failed to feature in any of Ross’ nine matchday squads in charge and could be heading for the exit door.
The striking department doesn’t require an overhaul with front pairing Florian Kamberi and Christian Doidge showing a lot of promise in recent weeks. However, Kamberi has been forced to sit out the last two games with a knee injury. The Swiss’ fitness will be monitored closely and it may, in due course, force Ross’ hand depending on the outcome.
Hibs have already cut short Glenn Middleton’s loan deal, with other departures expected during the next four weeks. But, in terms of new personnel arriving next month, these are the key areas Ross should be looking to bolster if Hibs are to better their current position of sixth in the table.