Postcard from Portugal: What we learned from Hibs pre-season training camp and how they could line up against Clyde
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Just 55 days have passed since a James Scott hat-trick and a Paul McGinn overhead kick ensured the Capital club finished a disappointing campaign on a relative high.
Four of the Hibs starting XI are no longer at the club and a fifth, Darren McGregor, will see less action this season. On top of that there have been eight new signings and two loans-made-permanent, to say nothing of a new permanent manager and coaching staff.
Hibs played two matches during their pre-season training camp in the Algarve, so what did we learn from the trip to Portugal?
Marshall-ing the defence
It was one of the worst-kept secrets in Scottish football that David Marshall would be signing for Hibs and his arrival coupled with the sale of Matt Macey to Luton Town means Hibs have a new number one.
With the caveat that he only played 45 minutes per game – one against a team with no recognised striker – Marshall looks like being a shrewd acquisition. His distribution was good, he was vocal in telling the defenders where to be and what to do, and he pulled off one smart save from close range against Burton Albion with the score at 1-1.
His presence will be hugely beneficial to up-and-coming shot-stopper Murray Johnson, while he will help to bring on Kevin Dabrowski as well – although the Pole will have an eye on more first-team appearances having finally made his debut last term.
Brydon and McClelland
Two centre-backs with no Scottish Premiership experience didn’t do their first-team chances any harm in Alcantarilha. McClelland was a late arrival from Rangers but caught the eye as a left-sided centre-back. Manager Lee Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he would ideally like to bring in another centre-back but he indicated that, should the youngsters impress him sufficiently, he may change up his priorities.
Brydon has had SPFL experience with Stenhousemuir and more recently Edinburgh City while McClelland had a brief spell at Falkirk on loan and turned out for Rangers B in the Lowland League. The Scottish Premiership is a step up again but both defenders did enough to suggest that they are more than up for a first-team fight.
Formation, Formation, Formation
Lee Johnson doesn’t stick rigidly to formations like some managers might. His focus is on results, style of play, and pressing – whatever strategy that involves. He lined Hibs up in a 4-2-3-1 against Hartlepool and tweaked it to a 4-4-2 against Burton Albion.
It remains to be seen how he might set up his team for the visit of Clyde but the versatility of his available players should mean he can go with one up top, or a front two, or even three forwards.
Two strong XIs
As things stand, Hibs will kick off their Premier Sports Cup campaign without Paul Hanlon, Kyle Magennis, Demi Mitchell, and Kevin Nisbet. The prospect of that quartet returning to action soon, or in Nisbet’s case, before the end of the calendar year, will give Johnson even more options across the park.
He has already commented on Mitchell’s ability to play left-back or right-midfield; he is a big fan of Nisbet, having previously tried to sign him; Magennis, on previous performances, would appear to fit his style of play, and Hanlon’s reputation precedes him.
When every player is fit and available, Hibs could put out two strong starting teams comprising different players. This is something that has been noticeably lacking at Easter Road in recent seasons for a variety of reasons – but having a bench full of players who can come on and impact a game could be crucial for Hibs this term.
Campbell and Delferriere
Allan Delferriere was signed in January as a development team recruit, but made his first-team debut in the final game of last season as a second-half substitute. The Belgian has been working his socks off ever since, doing extra training even before pre-season.
His presence in Portugal was perhaps a little surprising given his lack of gametime last season and expected involvement with the revived development squad, but the former Standard Liege man will have given Johnson something to think about with two commanding performances.
Josh Campbell also impressed in the Algarve and it would be no surprise to see him handed a starting role on Saturday. His energy levels fit right in with Johnson’s style and he could get a new lease of life under the new boss.
Line-up against Clyde?
In previous years, the manager might have chosen to shake up his team for a match against opposition two leagues below. But Johnson still needs to watch his team in a competitive game. He will have learned bits and pieces from the games in Portugal but the visit of Clyde will afford him more of an opportunity to judge his players in a meaningful game on the Easter Road pitch.
Christian Doidge and Aiden McGeady could be handed a start given neither has played much football in the last six months, while Marshall looks a good bet to start in goals. Kyle McClelland could partner Ryan Porteous in defence while there are many options in midfield. And will Chris Cadden or Lewis Miller get the nod at right-back?
Ewan Henderson and Nohan Kenneh could also feature while Élie Youan did his chances no harm with a goal in the 4-2 win against Burton.
Despite a few injuries there are options for each position – and Johnson could well mix it up for the trip to Falkirk on Tuesday.
At any rate, we should find out more about Johnson’s Hibs come 5pm on Saturday.