Lee Johnson: Five top priorities for new Hibs manager to tackle in bulging in-tray

Lee Johnson won’t have training or matches to worry about immediately when he settles into the Hibs hotseat, but the 40-year-old’s in-tray will be bulging all the same.

Thursday, 19th May 2022, 7:00 am

A pre-season training camp in Portugal will give him time to get his philosophy across to the squad, but there are lots of conversations to be had before then.

With Jamie McAllister coming in as assistant manager, he’ll need to define David Gray’s role as coach and bring in any other support staff agreed during the interview process to shape his backroom team. But the big decisions, of course, are about players. Here are five big challenges in Johnson’s in-tray.

GOALKEEPER SIGNING

Sign up to our Hibs football newsletter

Lee Johnson will be the new Hibs manager

One of the first things Johnson will have to do is rubber stamp the arrival of Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall on a two-year contract.

His signing is understood to include a break clause should the new manager have other ideas about a preferred goalkeeper, but it would be a major surprise if Johnson did not sanction the arrival of someone as experienced as Marshall.

The 37-year-old fell out of favour under Wayne Rooney at Derby County but became No 1 under Mark Warburton at Queens Park Rangers when he joined in January before an injury ended his season in March.

Shaun Maloney is understood to have done the groundwork for the signing before he was sacked, but Johnson will surely be happy with the arrival of a keeper who has not given up his Scotland ambitions.

David Marshall's signing on a two-year deal needs to be approved by Lee Johnson

If Marshall can produce anything like the kind of form that fellow Scotland veterans Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor have been displaying for Hearts and Celtic, Johnson will have a solid foundation to build from.

Johnson may have to consider whether or not he needs to retain both Matt Macey and Kevin Dabrowski, both contracted to the summer of 2023. Third choice David Mitchell, who has been filling in as interim goalkeeping coach, also has a year left.

CLEARING THE DECKS

Money will be available for Johnson to bring players in, but before then he’ll have to make decisions on the future of many who are already at the club. Defenders mostly.

Ryan Porteous is out of contract next summer

Rocky Bushiri’s loan from Norwich City expires this summer, but Hibs have an option to make the deal permanent. The young centre-back fell out of favour as the season drew to a close after being brought in by Maloney in January.

Paul McGinn’s contract is up, but he has an option to extend for a further year. The 31-year-old has had discussions with the club about a new deal since Maloney’s departure, but much may depend on Johnson’s plans.

Darren McGregor still has a year left and the veteran has expressed interest in a coaching role. That’s another conversation Johnson must have.

Scott Allan and Drey Wright are expected to be released when their contracts expire.

NEW FORWARDS

It goes without saying that recruitment is a high priority for the new boss, but this summer transfer window carries extra significance.

Club officials admitted that last summer’s window was a disaster and the consequences were dire. It led to the departure of Graeme Mathie and left Jack Ross without adequate cover when injuries started to accumulate early in the season. Ultimately, Ross paid the price with his job.

Johnson has a far bigger rebuild on his hands this summer, making it even more important that he gets in right in the transfer market.

There is money to spend from the £2.5 million sale of Martin Boyle and the Australian’s area of the pitch must top the priority list.

Kevin Nisbet is out until November at least and Christian Doidge struggled with form and fitness all season.

Sylvester Jasper and James Scott will return to Fulham and Hull City now that their loan deals are expiring, and Chris Mueller has already left.

Johnson can’t expect Elias Melkersen to be his main man up front, so signing three or four proven forwards who create chances and score goals is a top priority.

Maloney failed miserably in that department and Johnson can’t afford to do the same, with an exciting and attacking style of play a major part of his remit.

TIEING UP PORTEOUS

Ryan Porteous is a player who may attract interest over the summer, with his contract due to expire in the summer of 2023.

Stoke City boss Michael O’Neill, for example, was at Easter Road for the St Johnstone game on Sunday.

Despite his flaws, the 23-year-old has been Hibs’ best defender this season and his leadership qualities and connection with the fans make him an ideal pillar for Johnson to build his defence around. But if the new manager is in it for the long haul he’ll want to make sure Porteous does not run his contract down and then leave for free next summer, like John Souttar is doing at Hearts this summer.

It may not be an immediate priority, but Johnson and Hibs will want to protect what is a sellable asset by starting contract negotiations with Porteous soon.

WINNING OVER THE FANS

Johnson is cognisant enough to appreciate that winning over sceptical and underwhelmed Hibs supportersis important and will take time.

If social media is anything to go by, the vast majority would have picked Jon Dahl Tomasson ahead of him. But the former Malmo manager will soon be forgotten. Fans will quickly move on.

They will, of course, be monitoring the big decisions Johnson must make on player departures and arrivals in the weeks ahead, but the Englishman won’t be judged until Hibs return to competitive action in the Premier Sports Cup on the weekend of July 9/10.