Twin threats, traditional flaws and clear potential: main talking points as Hibs draw in Ayrshire

Hibs fans have plenty to mull over after an up-and-down opener for new boss Nick Montgomery.

Hibs manager Nick Montgomery and goalkeeper David Marshall after the 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock.Hibs manager Nick Montgomery and goalkeeper David Marshall after the 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock.
Hibs manager Nick Montgomery and goalkeeper David Marshall after the 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock.

Two goals scored, two conceded and enough positive-negative interactions to spark any number of arguments.

If there is no such thing as a zero-sum game in the frenetic environment of professional football, new Hibs boss Nick Montgomery might at least feel that he gained as much as he lost on Match Day One of his time as head coach.

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Sure, it would have been nice to leave Rugby Park with all three Scottish Premiership points. And it’s always disappointing to see a two-goal lead ripped away by a combination of opposition aggression and defensive slackness.

But look at it this way. He saw enough, for a good hour at least, to convince him that this group of players understand what he wants from them – and might make a decent fist of putting his ideas into practice.

And, over the closing half hour, he also learned a good deal about the limitations of a team whose last manager paid the price for repeated failings in some pretty basic areas of the game.

So what did we – and the new coaching staff – glean from a 2-2 draw against a Kilmarnock team who had already toppled both Rangers and Celtic on their own patch?

For starters, two up top offers twice the threat.

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Christian Doidge and Dylan Vente looked a real handful as a strike pairing, with their movement and wit causing all sorts of trouble to the Kilmarnock defence.

Worryingly, Doidge took a nasty head knock just before half-time and failed to return after the break, Montgomery describing the injury as “a double split” around the eye area.

The centre forward, much more than a target man for Hibs, has shown himself to be one of the most effective attackers in the division this season – making something of a mockery of the decision to loan him out to Kilmarnock last year.

If the Welshman is out for any length of time, at least Hibs have a decent replacement in Adam Le Fondre, who has the gift of a first touch that always seems to buy him half a yard of space.

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Josh Campbell also put in an energetic stint at centre forward when he replaced Vente, who had picked up a leg knock early in the game, after 65 minutes.

Whatever his final permutation, it looks as if Montgomery wants to go with two up top.

Next? Lewis Miller has serious potential.

There’s no way he’ll be allowed to claim his first Hibernian goal, with his shot hitting the post and rebounding off the back of luckless home goalkeeper Will Dennis – who broke a toe later in the game – before crossing the line.

But the way Miller controlled the ball and turned to shoot inside the box was very impressive, as was his tireless running up and down the wing from a starting position at right back.

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Now, yes, Joe Wright did get ahead of/above the defender to score the equaliser. But about three other preventable things happened in the lead-up to Wright’s header, so we can’t lay all the blame on the 23-year-old.

If this was an indication of how Hibs are going to play under Montgomery, Miller will have a crucial role to play. And he looks well equipped for the job.

And finally ... set pieces remain a weakness.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. But there was an inevitability about Kilmarnock’s equaliser.

The moment Rocky Bushiri allowed himself to be bumped into conceding that late corner, the near-2000 Hibs fans at the opposite end of the ground began steeling themselves for what would come next.

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An in-swinging delivery, a decent run across the front post area, a free header and a goal. Predictable.

Montgomery rightly pointed out, post-match, that Hibs had struggled with defending set pieces early in the season. Having already identified this as an area of concern, he now has a full training week to focus on improving a key element of any team’s performance.

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