What does Stevie Mallan's injury mean for Hibs - Fraser Murray boost | Vela and James chance | New signing?

The midfielder has been ruled out for two months following surgery on a knee injury

Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 4:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 5:05 pm

HIbs boss Jack Ross has been dealt a blow for the second half of the season with the news Stevie Mallan is set to miss two months following knee surgery.

The injury has robbed him of one of his first-team regulars.

We take a look at what the injury could mean for Hibs with Scottish football half way through the January transfer window.

Sign up to our Hibs football newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Stevie Mallan is set to miss the next two months. Picture: SNS

Transfer window

Aside from sympathy for Mallan and best wishes on his recovery, the initial reaction to the news of his injury has been largely, "okay, let's get moving on bringing in another midfielder" amongst Hibs fans.

Losing the 23-year-old takes another player out of midfield contention. With a diamond Jack Ross' preferred system so far, it requires three or four central midfielders to start the game.

There has been an acceptance that a defensive midfielder is required at Easter Road since the departure of Marvin Bartley and Mark Milligan. Melker Hallberg has done extremely well in the position, but it is not his strongest and he could be used in one of the lateral positions on the side of the diamond, which is where Mallan has been played.

The midfielder has hit three goals this season. Picture: SNS

The Hibs boss has previously admitted that the club are not in a position where they can do a "huge amount at the moment". The injury may accelerate the need for an extra body in the midfield.

Opportunities for youngsters

As much as fans love the excitement of the transfer window, the speculation, YouTube videos, the picture of a player with the club's scarf above their head, they are equally positive when talented youngsters from the club's academy are handed opportunities to make their mark.

That could very much be the case at Hibs, even more so if no new recruit is forthcoming. Which means the likes of Innes Murray, Josh Campbell and Fraser Murray come into the equation.

Mallan has come in for criticism from some quarters. Picture: SNS

The latter will be the player most likely to be pushed forward into having a greater influence amongst the first team. The 20-year-old has been talked up by former boss Paul Heckingbottom, as well as Ross who has noted his development.

He said: "Everything he has done in training has been very good and in the reserve game I watched he was very good.

“I like him, I think he has good attributes. It is important we continue to have a pathway for our players.”

That being said, he hasn't started a first-team match since the final game of last season.

Murray is highly-rated around HTC, by team-mates and the coaching staff. He is an assured, technical player who can cover ground, working both ways, and continues to perform for the Development Squad when it could be easy to drop the head due to a lack of first-team opportunities.

A lack of a defined position may have worked against him, but there could be that opportunity he is looking for to get a run of games and show he belongs in the starting XI, not just in the first-team squad.

Fringe players

Tom James and Josh Vela have very much fallen out of favour at Hibs. The duo were signed by Paul Heckingbottom but have collectively struggled with their move to Scottish football.

Vela has faced stinging criticism from fans, while James showed potential but possibly scarred after a trying experience in the 5-2 defeat to Celtic in the Betfred Cup semi-final.

Mallan's injury could offer both a glimpse of first-team football. Vela is injured, which means James - who has been on the bench the past two games - could get pushed into a midfield role which he played at Yeovil Town.

Danger from distance

Mallan is one of the most dangerous and potent strikers of a ball from long-range. It was on display numerous times last season and more sporadically this term.

Goals against Hearts and Hamilton (albeit inside the box) show a player who possesses excellent technical ability. The strike against Accies especially was executed perfectly.

No one has attempted more shots from outside the box in the Scottish Premiership than Mallan's 33. Of the 41 strikes he has had in total, he has hit the target 41.46 per cent of the time - one of the best accuracy rates in the league.

It is a part of the attacking arsenal which Hibs will likely miss in the coming months, putting more emphasis on quick build-up play.

Set pieces

In addition to his long-range shooting prowess, Mallan has been somewhat of a dead-ball specialist, especially when it comes to putting corners and free-kicks into dangerous areas.

Yet, it has been overstated this campaign, with Hibs netting just three times from set pieces. Scott Allan showed his ability to step into Mallan's corner and free-kick role with the cross he sent in for Christian Doidge to score at Ross County last month.

No.10

Scott Allan has been hugely influential in piecing Hibs attacks together and piercing opposition defences. Watching back through the team's goals from this campaign that becomes more evident.

There would be real concern if he were to suffer a prolonged period on the sidelines. It would require a switch in formation or someone stepping into the No.10 role.

Mallan and Fraser Murray would be the two you would immediately think of to do so. Of course, it is very much a hypothetical, but if Allan staying injury free has taken on even more importance following his team-mates injury.

Rest

Looking at it from the player's point of view, this lay-off could in fact be a blessing in disguise.

There is no need to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Mallan has not had the best time of it. Last season's player of the year was asked to play in a deeper role at the start of the campaign, and week after week it was clear that he wasn't suited to such a role.

His 45.37 per cent defensive duel success rate is one of the lowest in the league for someone who has played as many minutes as he has (more than 1,300). A defensive midfielder he is not

Below-par performances have led to criticism in the press and in the Easter Road stands. It took until the change of manager for him to be taken out of the firing line.

While not ideal, a two-month break could allow Mallan, who is still only 23, to recalibrate, take stock and come back stronger. He can easily look to Martin Boyle who has missed a large chunk of the season but looks fresh and even more dangerous.