Where do Hibs stand after the end of the summer transfer window?
So the transfer window is done and dusted for another few months. After 13 weeks of speculation, clever signing announcements and players with scarves above their heads, all eyes now turn to the action on the park as clubs are (largely) forced into making do with what they've got until the window is pried open again in January.
Hibs were certainly busy across the period, completing a deal for Adam Jackson in the days prior to the window officially opening and then signing their tenth player in the form of Jason Naismith with just over half an hour to go before it SLAMMED shut.
The one thing Hibs have failed to find in the current transfer window is a tough tackling centre-midfielder, though this appears to be by choice. Marvin Bartley and Mark Milligan were allowed to leave the club towards the end of the previous season. There was little dissent from the fans with regards to both. Bartley had been a great servant though did appear to be waning - although, almost typically, he's impressed since joining Livingston - while Milligan was a solid but unspectacular squad player. Heckingbottom then stated he didn't want that type of player at the base of midfield. He'd rather a deep-lying playmaker than someone who will frighten the life out of opponents.
That's all well and good but the midfield has looked powderpuff in the opening few games of the season. A central three including Stevie Mallan and Scott Allan has not defended to the required standard, while Josh Vela has been burdened with too much of the functional dirty work that allows his two creative partners the foundation on which to thrive. Even though you can't fault the ex-Bolton man's enthusiasm, as he happily hares around the pitch, he too doesn't quite have the robust approach that Hibs are requiring.
That's why the signing of Melker Hallberg will be so vitally important. The need for a proper defensive midfield forced Heckingbottom to go back on his previous proclamation when he stated that Hibs were done in the transfer market. The former Udinese man is not quite the hard-as-nails type the side are lacking, but he's at least someone with the discipline for playing the deeper role and the ability to halt opposing attacks. If he can adapt and thrive then a midfield three featuring himself, Vela and Allan (with Vykintas Slivka and Mallan providing cover for the latter two) can have enough balance to help Hibs recover from their poor start to the season.
Unfortunately it's not the only area of the team where question marks exist.
Up front is where the biggest problems could arise. Florian Kamberi, Christian Doidge and Oli Shaw are the only natural options, though Glenn Middleton and Martin Boyle (when fit) could provide emergency cover. If Kamberi goes down or suffers another bout of flaky form then there may well be a lack of firepower in the attack. Is Doidge up to Ladbrokes Premiership standard? Has Shaw reached enough of his potential that he can be third choice on a team with aspirations of finishing third? We can wait and see but the early signs in 2019/20 are not altogether promising. And if Heckingbottom feels that a two-up-top system is the best for getting the best out of his side, can Kamberi and Doidge effectively work together? They both look at their best with their back to goal. A Jamie Maclaren-type to run in behind would have been a welcomed addition on deadline day.
Hibs did make one signing as time ticked down and it was a very good one at that. Naismith was excellent in an absolutely horrendous Ross County team the season before last and, having played regularly for Peterborough last term, should be able to return to the Scottish top flight and hit the ground running. He's a big, athletic boy who can contribute at both ends of the field from right-back.
It gives Hibs five options at full-back, which should be enough even with the injury struggles of David Gray and Tom James and the exit of Sean Mackie on loan. It would appear James and Steven Whittaker are now the cover at left-back behind Lewis Stevenson,.
There's still an age issue in the back four but you can't really criticise Heckingbottom for not wishing to make wholesale changes in an area of the park where continuity is an important factor. Gray, Stevenson, Whittaker and Darren McGregor are all in their 30s, while Paul Hanlon will reach that milestone this campaign. Jackson has been a decent addition at centre-back and James was also a strong signing on paper, so there have been moves to take the home defence into the future.
But we shall end this article where we began: the midfield. Because it's ahead of Naismith where we find further imbalance. There are four wingers on the books, though only one of them is naturally right-footed (Boyle) and he's out for a few months. To put it kindly, the jury is still out on Joe Newell, so it'll be Middleton and Daryl Horgan who will be expected to start in the other two spots. Horgan has played on the right before, but it's far from ideal.
If Horgan can impress on the opposite flank, if Middleton can belie his inexperience and be a consistent menace on the left, if Hallberg can bring stability to the midfield, if Vela has bridge defence and attack, and if the first-choice defence (whatever it may be) can largely avoid injuries and consistently play together to develop an understanding then Hibs will shoot up the table and into the race for Europe where everyone expected them to be.
But that's a lot of ifs.