Why plenty fine-tuning is required ahead of Hibs’ Premiership opener
In a tournament where most of the bigger teams have been finding the going tough against lower-league opponents, it would be churlish to make too big a deal of any deficiencies in any team that is able to eke out a clean-sheet victory against a side from the division below.
Hamilton Accies, St Mirren, Dundee and Dunfermline Athletic, for instance, all slipped up in the Betfred Cup this weekend against teams they would ordinarily be expected to defeat. Hibs, by contrast, got the victory they needed to keep themselves in contention for qualification for the second round.
In analysing the performance of Paul Heckingbottom’s team, however, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that a good bit of fine-tuning is required ahead of the Premiership opener against St Mirren a week on Saturday, particularly as this unconvincing display - characterised by rustiness and a lack of tempo - came on the back of a draw against a League Two side.
Hibs were rarely troubled defensively against Alloa and can take heart from a first clean sheet of the season, but, although Steven Whittaker got himself into several scoring chances from right-back and Tom James marked a hitherto unspectacular debut at left-back with a brilliant late strike, the team missed the energy and influence of both David Gray and Lewis Stevenson in the full-back positions. It is hard to imagine either being ready for the St Mirren game.
The introduction of Scott Allan and Fraser Murray at half-time and a switch to 4-3-3 (from 4-4-2) made a difference to Hibs’ ability to get on top of Alloa, who did well to frustrate the hosts for 69 minutes. Allan and Murray gave Hibs a bit more dynamism than they had in the first half, when Josh Campbell and Stevie Mallan were the central duo. The addition of Josh Vela, who watched from the stand against Alloa, should give midfield a more natural blend.
Martin Boyle promises to be one of Hibs’ main players this season but, after almost seven months without competitive football, the winger looks like he will require a few more games to rediscover his sharpness.
The main concern for supporters this summer surrounds the attack, which isn’t currently carrying the menacing look many would like. Florian Kamberi, Christian Doidge and Oli Shaw are currently the only senior strikers on the books and Heckingbottom has indicated that Hibs’ summer business is complete. Supporters are understandably hoping he is bluffing. Doidge appears to be the first choice within this trio and the Welshman showed his finishing ability with a well-taken first goal against Alloa and a disallowed header. After a poor first half, he became more effective as the game wore on, and after Hibs had changed formation.
As for the other two strikers, Shaw, who hasn’t scored since February, was given five minutes at the end and Kamberi, with one goal since February, was subbed at half-time after struggling to make his presence felt in the first half. As is the case with virtually every team in world football, things should get notably better as everyone gets up to speed and new players find their feet.
At this stage, Hibs can draw solace from the fact their league opener is against a Buddies team who are enduring a wretched Betfred Cup campaign and are unlikely to be in great fettle when they head to Easter Road. In the meantime, Heckingbottom’s work-in-progress team must ensure they are able to raise their game a notch on Tuesday night to deal with an upwardly-mobile Abroath side who have been in superb form this summer and look equipped to ask a few more attacking questions than Alloa did.