Why it’s a worry that no player is thriving at Hibs just now
Paul Heckingbottom failing to get the best out of his squad amid lengthy malaise
Prior to Hibs’ match against Livingston, a journalist from Bolton introduced himself to a pair of Edinburgh-based reporters in the Easter Road press room and was keen to find out how former Wanderers pair Josh Vela and Christian Doidge had been getting on in their early months in Leith.
This involved a slightly awkward exchange where we had to inform this curious interloper that, to put it kindly, neither player had set the heather alight. While he acknowledged that Doidge hadn’t been given enough of a chance to show what he could do at Bolton, he explained that Vela had been a good player for the Lancashire club and was surprised that he hadn’t made much impact since arriving in Edinburgh in the summer. Underlining Vela’s current struggles, he was dropped to the bench for the 2-2 draw with Livingston and remained an unused substitute throughout.
The 25-year-old Englishman joined Hibs on the back of making more than 150 appearances for Wanderers, the majority of which came in the English Championship - a league deemed to be of a higher standard than the Scottish Premiership. His underwhelming form at Hibs is indicative of a wider problem at the club, whereby almost every player in a green and white shirt appears to be playing some way below their best.
While it is widely accepted that Hibs have fewer quality players than they had under Neil Lennon two years ago, the current group should still be capable of a better return than six points from a possible 30. With the possible exception of talisman Scott Allan, nobody within the Hibs squad appears to be operating close to their peak level on a remotely regular basis under Paul Heckingbottom.
On Wednesday night, Allan and Paul Hanlon were Hibs’ standout performers. On Saturday, against Ross County, Hibs’ two best players were arguably Allan and Daryl Horgan, who only played the second 45 minutes. Indeed, the very fact Horgan started on the bench at the weekend was a reflection of the fact he has not been playing particularly well this season. Similarly, Glenn Middleton, deemed an exciting signing in the summer, has done little of note so far.
Jason Naismith and Tom James, both of whom have decent CVs, seem to rotate at right-back because neither of them can nail down the position. Lewis Stevenson is still as tenacious and committed as ever, but his productivity as an attacking full-back capacity seems diminished, perhaps in part due to the team’s dysfunctional strike force.
Ryan Porteous and Hanlon should, on paper, be a strong centre-back pairing, but the defence doesn’t look particularly assured at present. Stevie Mallan is playing every week despite doing very little recently to justify this status. He has proven previously that he can make an impact in an attacking sense by virtue of scoring goals, but he doesn’t currently seem to be stationed in a position which allows him to do this. Both Florian Kamberi and Christian Doidge, the two main strikers at the club and both with previous experience of scoring goals regularly, are struggling badly and look bereft of confidence.
In short, nobody is thriving within the current set-up and no area of the team is looking particularly impressive. While each individual must take a huge chunk of responsibility for their own productivity, ultimately, when so many are clearly underperforming, questions have to be asked about whether enough is being done, in terms of motivation, tactics and coaching, to get the best out of the players.