The arrival of Ryan Gauld from Sporting CP on a loan deal until the end of the season looks like good business by Hibs. Patrick McPartlin looks at what the former Dundee United midfielder will bring to Neil Lennon’s side...
The departures of Scott Allan, Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn left three sizeable gaps to plug in midfield, and the loss of Martin Boyle to a season-ending knee injury sustained on international duty won’t have improved Neil Lennon’s selection issues. Thomas Agyepong has had his own injury worries while natural winger Daryl Horgan has been deployed as a No.10 in a bid to inject some creativity into the side.
The arrival of Gauld, who can play on either flank or off the striker, would free up Horgan to resume duties on the wing while allowing the on-loan Sporting midfielder to supply the forward line with the killer passes conspicuous by their absence in the first half of the campaign.
While the injuries to Agyepong and Boyle may prompt Lennon to bring in another out-and-out winger, Gauld’s versatility would allow Hibs to operate in the 3-5-2 or diamond formations favoured by the Hibs coaching staff, as well as fitting into other tactical set-ups.
The new Dylan McGeouch?
Despite Lennon lauding his qualities in the final third of the pitch, Gauld was at times played in a more central midfield role during his time in Portugal.
While the departure of John McGinn may have been more keenly felt among the Easter Road support, the absence of a player in the mould of Dylan McGeouch has virtually slipped beneath the radar.
Likened to a clock that ticked at the base of the Hibs midfield, the former Celtic man would often drop deep to collect the ball and start attacks with an incisive pass.
Gauld’s stats for Dundee United - nine goals and 12 assists in 51 games - hint that Hibs have landed a dangerous attacking prospect, but he will have the ability to drop deep and perform the role left vacant by McGeouch if required.
Tactical nous and physical development
Gauld is taller and heavier than he was during his time at Tannadice. The years in Portugal have allowed him to concentrate on developing his game and his body
Speaking to the Daily Mail earlier this year he said: “I have worked hard. It’s not about muscle mass but becoming stronger in an athletic sense. I have done that and I continue to work on it.”
The former Scotland Under-21 star has also pinpointed the big improvements in his all-round game.
“I have developed defensively - my defensive knowledge is much bigger. Tactically, I am more sure of my positioning,” he told the Mail.
But Gauld still sees himself as the sort of player who can get bums off seats; a fearless player who will look to beat opposing defenders and create chances for his team-mates, as well as chipping in with the odd goal himself.
Someone with a point to prove
Several members of the Dundee United team that played alongside Gauld have gone onto bigger and better things. Andy Robertson now captains Scotland and is Liverpool’s starting left-back; Stuart Armstrong won two trebles and eight trophies in total with Celtic before sealing a move to the English Premier League with Southampton, and a regular berth in the national team squad; John Souttar is a year younger than Gauld but has established himself as a first pick for Hearts and his country and Gary Mackay-Steven won three league titles and one league cup with Celtic, now plays regularly for Aberdeen and has forced his way into the thoughts of Scotland manager Alex McLeish.
Gauld was, at the time of his move to Portugal, applauded for his decision to try his luck abroad and test himself in a different footballing environment.
He now has a chance to prove he made the right decision and show exactly why Neil Lennon was so keen to acquire his services.