What is wrong with Hibs striker Christian Doidge?

International breaks are often tedious for the die-hard club supporter, but the domestic shutdowns can often come at the right time for managers looking for the correct answers regarding the conundrums in their squad.

Hibs boss Shaun Maloney will certainly be using the time to further familiarise himself with his first-team unit as he looks to get them playing with the kind of consistency they’ve lacked since he took over the reins from interim coach David Gray in December following Jack Ross’ sacking.

In particular, there was a burst of life in the first half of the Scottish Cup win over Motherwell with Elias Melkersen injecting a much-needed spark, but generally the attack has appeared quite anaemic for some time and reverted to being so against Aberdeen last time out.

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One player he could be keeping a keen eye on is Christian Doidge and whether he can concoct a plan to get the striker firing again – if that’s still a possibility.

Hibs striker Christian Doidge hasn't scored since returning from injury in November. Picture: SNS

The 29-year-old was a firm fan favourite at Easter Road. After an ignominious start under Paul Heckingbottom, the boss who brought him to Easter Road, Doidge found his scoring touch and became a valuable member of the first-team from that point forward.

More than his scoring prowess, which has mostly come in hot and cold periods, he endeared himself to the support with the other ways in which he’d help his team. He was an excellent focal point, capable of winning high balls, holding the play up and, most impressively, linking play effectively with the attackers around him. Kevin Nisbet, for instance, appeared to perform at his best when he had Doidge beside him: making the runs, being a presence, just naturally deflecting attention away from the top scorer.

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He started this campaign on fire as well. After scoring against Motherwell on the opening weekend after coming off the bench, he then dominated Ross County in a 3-0 win the following match, which included him grabbing a second goal in as many games.

Then disaster struck. He injured his Achilles during training and missed the next three-and-a-half months. His return was a happy one, coming off the bench in the 3-1 Premier Sports Cup semi-final victory over Rangers, but otherwise there’s been a problem. Doidge hasn’t looked the same player since the injury, not even close. And with each passing game in which he struggles to reach his previous base level, fears grow stronger that he’s not going to rediscover that form in Leith.

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The eye test is bad enough, but it’s the advanced statistics which are really startling.

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Goals, expected goals, shots, shot assists, dribbling attempts, touches in the box, fouls committed, fouls won, losses, recoveries and interceptions – all per 90 minutes – they’re all down for Doidge compared to last season. The same goes for percentages: shot accuracy, one-on-one dribbles, passing, crossing and aerial duels.

Those are most of the main categories in which it’s useful to judge a striker on their impact. Doidge is down on literally every single one of them.

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Some aren’t such a big deal. His passing accuracy going from 68.8 to 68.4 barely deserves a mention. But then there’s his shot percentage (42.9 to 29.4), his success taking on a defender (48.2 to 28.6) and how often he’s winning an aerial battle (42.2 to 35.2). All of these highlight a significant drop.

Even the “positive” dips have negative connotations. Typically you’d like to read that your striker is losing the ball less or committing fewer fouls. But as part of this overall pattern it just adds to the concern. He’s becoming more of a peripheral figure and unable to stamp his mark on the game, something you could rarely accuse Doidge of before, even when he was going through one of his scoring slumps.

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So what’s happened? The simple and most distressing answer might be the injury has forever changed him as a player. He does appear to have lost a yard of pace and he wasn’t blessed with many yards to lose in the first place. Hearts fans can recall Christophe Berra, similarly in his later years, suffering a hamstring injury early in a season and not looking the same upon his return. Berra didn’t recover and is now in the second tier with Raith Rovers.

Perhaps he’s feeling a little subdued as a result of the transfer talk which appeared in January, linking him with a loan move to Dundee. Hibs denied he was made available, but Doidge could have been left thinking it was a case of no smoke without fire. He had struggled to regain a place in the starting XI after all. He may have felt a little unwanted or it knocked his confidence, though it wouldn’t explain his performances prior to the New Year.

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An interesting wrinkle in all of this is the extension Hibs gave to Doidge shortly before his comeback in November. He’s now got two years remaining on his contract and considering he was signed from Forest Green Rovers for around £300,000, has been a first-team regular ever since and was given the deal at a time where several other members of the dressing room were getting signed up, it’s quite likely he’s on a generous wage and not the type of contract a Kilmarnock or St Johnstone will happily take off Hibs’ hands.

There is the possibility he came back too quickly and a full pre-season to get himself right will have Doidge reignited once again. But with Kevin Nisbet out of action and a 19-year-old the only other option in attack, ahead of some huge fixtures coming up, everyone connected with the club would much rather Maloney – whether through tactical nous or man-management skills – is able to solve this problem long before then.

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