What Hibs fans need to know about Gael Bigirimana, Darnell Johnson and Marc McNulty
Hibs completed three signings late on transfer deadline day, bringing in Gael Bigirimana from Motherwell along with Darnell Johnson and Marc McNulty on loan from Leicester City and Reading respectively. Here’s what Hibees should know about the new trio...
Gael Bigirimana, midfielder, signed from Motherwell
Gael Bigirimana was something of a surprise signing for Hibs, the Burundi midfielder joining on a deal until the end of the summer from Motherwell. The former Newcastle and Coventry midfielder has been used mostly as a substitute by Stephen Robinson in recent matches, although he did play 73 minutes of the 1-0 loss to Kilmarnock on Boxing Day.
Hibs have struggled to replace Dylan McGeouch since the former Celtic man moved to Sunderland during the summer and while Bigirimana perhaps isn’t quite at the same level, he will at the very least fulfil a role the Capital club have been badly missing so far this season.
For Hibs fans unsure of what they’re getting, Bigirimana had the seventh-highest total number of assists per 90 minutes for the 2017/18 season - putting him ahead of Celtic’s Tom Rogic and Scott Sinclair.
He notched four assists and one goal from his 19 appearances for the Steelmen this year - including two assists in the 3-3 draw with Rangers early on in the campaign - giving him a total tally of three goals and nine assists in 57 ‘Well matches.
The 25-year-old has an eye for a pass and can dictate the tempo of matches with ease. If Hibs are to come close to replicating the McGeouch / McGinn / Allan triumvirate that stole the show in the second half of last season, Bigirimana isn’t a bad option to have at the base of midfield.
Darnell Johnson, centre-back, on loan from Leicester City
Darnell Johnson comes to Easter Road with a decent pedigree, having helped England to victory in the UEFA Under-19 European Championships in 2017, and is highly thought-of at the King Power Stadium where he signed a three-year deal in August last year shortly after helping the club’s Under-23s to a third-place finish in the Premier League 2 table.
The 20-year-old has been with the Foxes since he was ten, and has been capped at every junior level for England from Under-16 to Under-20.
Prior to signing his new contract, Johnson was tipped to follow in the footsteps of Jadon Sancho and Chris Willock by swapping England for overseas - he was on the radar of Dutch Eredivise sides Ajax and NAC Breda.
A versatile defender, he can operate at right-back as well as his preferred centre-back position.
Leicester manager Claude Puel gave Johnson several chances to impress in pre-season, with the 20-year-old performing well against the likes of Udinese, Valencia and Lille.
He has made three first-team appearances for Leicester, playing the full 120 minutes in EFL Trophy matches against Fleetwood Town, Morecambe Town and Rochdale, and a further 90 minutes against Bury and Cheltenham Town.
In the Premier League 2, Johnson has played 13 times, captaining the Foxes’ Under-23 team on seven occasions.
Against Everton on January 7, he scored the only goal of the game as Leicester recorded a 1-0 win over the current table-toppers - who are just a point ahead of Steve Beaglehole’s side.
Johnson plays his best football as a right-sided centre-half. Strong in the air and not often second-best in 50/50 situations, he looks to be a good addition to the Hibs backline.
In his own words: “I’d like to say I’m old school and new school. I know how to lock up shop, be aggressive, win everything in the air, don’t give the forward a yard.
“Then again, with the new school, I can play out, I’d like to say I can use both my feet.”
Marc McNulty, striker, on loan from Reading
Nearly a decade after being let go by Hibs, Marc ‘Sparky’ McNulty returns to Easter Road, perhaps with something of a point to prove. The 26-year-old’s stats for Livingston, Sheffield United, Portsmouth and Coventry City illustrate why the Easter Road were desperate to bring him on board:
• Livingston - 46 goals and 23 assists from 113 matches
• Sheffield United - 14 goals and four assists from 56 matches
• Coventry City - 28 goals and 11 assists from 52 matches
• Portsmouth - 12 goals and eight assists from 23 matches
A loan spell at Bradford City didn’t work out, and McNulty has seemingly fallen out of favour at the Madejski Stadium under Jose Gomes, but McNulty’s pedigree is clear to see. He scored the winner in a League Cup quarter-final against Southampton while he was at Bramall Lane and in his last appearance for Coventry, he won the man of the match award as the Sky Blues defeated Exeter City 3-1 in the play-off final, helping the club win promotion to League One.
His arrival will provide Hibs with additional firepower - an area the club has struggled with this season - but crucially, his presence should also bring out the best in Florian Kamberi.
The big Swiss striker looks far more comfortable with a partner in attack, and the Livingston-born forward appears to fit the Jamie Maclaren-shaped gap left in the Hibs attack.
Part of the reason for Hibs’ success in the second half of last season was the partnership Kamberi shared with Maclaren, who cancelled his loan at Easter Road to return to his homeland with Melbourne City.
The Australia international and the ex-Grasshoppers striker dovetailed perfectly and hit a combined 17 goals as Hibs came close to stealing second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
McNulty’s presence in the Hibs attack could well coax the best out of Kamberi once again and give the Easter Road side a different dimension going forward.