What Hibs need to do to avoid more pain in the Premiership

Five. That was the number of passes Hibs made in the Rangers half before they found themselves 2-0 down at Ibrox.

Monday, 12th August 2019, 12:33 pm
Hibs players hang their heads after the 6-1 thumping at Ibrox. Picture: SNS

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Three things we learned as Hibs were thumped 6-1 by Rangers at Ibrox

A hopeful cross by Daryl Horgan towards Christian Doidge was the only time a player in green and white passed into the final third in the opening 15 minutes.

A positive start is key when visiting Ibrox or Parkhead. Not just in terms of showing a bit of ambition but also staying compact and thwarting the advances of the home side, frustrating the home crowd. It acts as a message: 'We won't be bullied. We won't surrender easily.'

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Hibs players hang their heads after the 6-1 thumping at Ibrox. Picture: SNS

But rather than positivity, it was passivity.

The moment Jermain Defoe nipped in front of Sean Mackie to grab his second with less than 15 minutes on the eye, Paul Heckingbottom's men were all but down and out.

Not simply because they were being passed off the park and starved of possession but the fact that when Hibs did get a sniff of the ball there was never the sense that they were going to do anything meaningful with it.

From early on it was evident that this was a Hibs side without a clear picture of what they had to do. It feeds into a larger image, a concern among fans, what is the team's identity?

Neil Lennon's Hibs would look to be aggressive and attacking. Alan Stubbs wanted his side to take control.

With the honeymoon period over, what Heckingbottom wants from his team is as clear as the driving conditions heading back to the Capital along the M8 after the 6-1 defeat.

Hibs' results under the Englishman highlight the issue somewhat. Against team's in last season's bottom six the Easter Road side have won six out of six. In nine fixtures against the top six it is one win - and that came against a Hearts side in the midst of bottom six form.

On the face of it, they are doing the bare minimum.

What the Hibs support want to see is a sign of progression following the difficult end to Lennon's tenure.

Heckingbottom arrived as a manager with a reputation for playing 4-4-2 but that has morphed into a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 during his time in Leith.

In an interview with The Scotsman he said: "This club I know have that tradition too (of playing passing football) and I do think there’s still a desire that they play in the Hibs way. But fans everywhere if they’re honest want winning football. You’ve got to win.

"I’d rather take talented, technical players and get them running around the pitch, giving them a real organisation and a drive, than have guys who will automatically offer those qualities but who can only play one way, can’t pass the ball or keep it on the floor, because that just produces a real scrap every game.”

Against Rangers they didn't operate with, to get technical, a high press nor did they set up with a low block. They seemed stuck in between. They didn't offer resistance, they didn't make it difficult for the home side. There was no tempo and no sense of urgency.

The most concerning area of the pitch was the midfield with the second goal offering a visual evisceration of the inadequacies.

Jordan Jones nutmegged Steven Whittaker on the touchline but still more than 45 yards from the Hibs goal. Stevie Mallan read the danger, came across but then did nothing. If anything he got out of the road of the winger. It left the visitors completely exposed.

There are limitations in the middle. If Hibs aren't allowed to control the game there isn't the sense that they have the grit to win the midfield battle.

In Scottish football, it has to be realised for any newcomers, you are required to earn the right to play before being able to play.

Only two league games have taken place, one of which was a win, but early signs suggest a Hibs team which is unsure of itself and unfinished. The coming weeks, on the training ground and in the transfer market, are going to be crucial for Paul Heckingbottom and his side.