The rise of Alex Gogic: How midfielder has improved and adapted since joining Hibs
If Christian Doidge’s scrambled opener against Queen of the South was no surprise given Hibs’ pressure, the fact he was set up by Alex Gogic was certainly unexpected.
It’s not unusual to see his shaved head bobbing around the penalty box at a set-piece – but more often than not he is there to create chaos, rather than goals.
When he arrived at Hibs last summer from Hamilton, the general consensus was that the club had finally brought in the defensive midfielder that had been missing since the departure of Marvin Bartley and Mark Milligan.
Signing Josh Vela to fulfil the role didn't work out and much of the truncated 2019/20 season was spent trying a few different players in the position. Nearly every central midfielder on Hibs' books as well as Steven Whittaker was tried in a diamond formation or a 4-2-3-1 with varying levels of success, and it was little surprise when Jack Ross abandoned both set-ups in favour of a 3-4-1-2 for the last few games, thus negating the need for a physical player in the holding role.
In the first few matches of 2020/21 Gogic didn't really stand out, but didn't do a lot wrong either. He was adept at rumbling into 50/50s, skilled at bundling opponents off the ball if not always within the rules of the game, but there was a feeling that there were some matches in which his particular skillset wasn't needed – and his passing left a bit to be desired at times.
However, the former Swansea youngster isn't just a battering ram that can protect the defence.
How do you solve a problem like three very similar midfielders?
There have been glimpses of it – not least with his howitzer of a goal against Kilmarnock in January – and while it's perhaps inadvisable to make assumptions from a one-off cup tie against lower-league opposition, Hibs may just have solved that that nagging issue of having three midfielders in Gogic, Jackson Irvine, and Joe Newell who are very similar.
Credit must go to the coaching staff for helping Gogic tweak his style of play but the player’s hard work shouldn’t be underestimated either.
With Newell and Irvine often dropping deep to pick up the ball and drive forwards, there have been times this season when attacking moves break down simply due to a lack of bodies in the final third.
The ball bounces around the penalty area, is cleared as far as the 'D' and yet there are no midfielders waiting for the rebound. Ironically, Gogic's strike against Killie came from that exact scenario, while Irvine and Newell had a couple of half-chances against Queens from similar spots.
At Palmerston he was just as likely to be supporting the attack as clearing the ball on the edge of his own box. After so many games of doing the dirty work and letting his midfield colleagues take the acclaim, Gogic is slowly forcing his way into the limelight.
If last season it felt occasionally like the midfield was simply a case of picking four or five bodies and hoping it worked, it has been the polar opposite this term with a clearly defined system and more than one player capable of filling each position – and it shouldn’t be underestimated how important Gogic has been in achieving that.
Stepping up from Hamilton
At Accies, Gogic registered two goals and one assist in 84 games. He's already managed one goal and one assist in just 32 matches for Hibs and had Kevin Nisbet found the net early in the second half against Queens Gogic might well have two assists to his name.
That the Easter Road fans haven't seen him in the flesh is a great shame, because watching live streams or on television doesn't show the full picture.
In less than a season Gogic has become a more rounded midfielder. His passing has improved, his tactical awareness is better, and since suffering a bit of a dip in performance level around the mid-season mark he has been far more consistent.
Hibs have had great success in recent years plucking promising players from “smaller” clubs and helping them kick on and Gogic is just the latest example – and the club were perhaps fortunate in securing his services.
St Mirren were keen on Gogic, and there were clubs in England, Greece and his homeland monitoring his situation with some going as far as making enticing offers to the midfielder.
There was interest from America, too. This wasn't a case of Hibs signing a player who just happened to be available in order to plug a gap; he had been identified as the missing piece of the Easter Road jigsaw.
He was someone the Capital club worked very hard to get hold of – and he is beginning to show on a regular basis exactly why.
Those Bartley comparisons
Comparisons with Marvin Bartley are to be expected. After all, Gogic is filling the rather sizeable gap left by Bartley’s departure in the summer of 2019 not just on the park, but in the dressing room too, even if Gogic’s softly-spoken demeanour off the pitch is in stark contrast to the hear-him-before-you-see-him experience with Bartley.
I’ve even jocularly referred to the “Marvin Bartley role” on occasion this season when writing about Gogic; equal parts a nod to the Livingston captain’s impact at Easter Road; the hole his departure left; the “Matty Jack role”, and to try and illustrate to supporters the importance of the Cypriot midfielder to this Hibs team.
But even after less than a season in green and white I am arriving at an undeniable truth: that he isn’t Bartley mark ii; or a Matty Jack for the twenty-twenties, but a different type of player carving out a different role.
The Alex Gogic role.