Tactics, energy, subs: All we learned about Hibs from Shaun Maloney's first game in charge

A Ryan Porteous goal ensured the Shaun Maloney era at Hibs got off to a winning start as the Easter Road side defeated Aberdeen in the penultimate match before the rearranged winter break.

By Patrick McPartlin
Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 3:26 pm
Shaun Maloney applauds the fans at full time after Hibs' 1-0 victory over Aberdeen
Shaun Maloney applauds the fans at full time after Hibs' 1-0 victory over Aberdeen

The Scottish Government’s announcement earlier this week and the SPFL’s subsequent decision to bring forward the pause – which was actually confirmed mid-game – meant there were more than a few sideshows to the Scottish Premiership meeting.

With it also being Maloney’s first match in charge, we learned a little about his team and his approach, and what we might expect going forwards. It is, of course, early days but there were a number of notable points from the encounter worth highlighting.

Consecutive league wins for the first time since August

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Last midweek’s victory over Dundee and the three points against the Dons signalled Hibs’ first back-to-back league wins since the beginning of August, when Hibs defeated Motherwell 3-2 at Fir Park before a 3-0 triumph over Ross County at Easter Road.

Hibs scored six goals in those two matches rather than just squeezing by with narrow one-goal margins but after a six-game losing streak, nearly as many drawn games as victories, plus the exertions of Sunday’s Premier Sports Cup final, getting over the line feels like a significant success.

If Hibs can defeat Dundee United on Boxing Day it will be three league wins on the bounce for the first time since the start of last season.

Consecutive clean sheets

After all the praise they rightly received during the 2020/21 campaign, the Hibs defence has had a more porous time of things this term. Just 35 goals were conceded last term but this year, 21 have already ended up in the back of the net.

It will be impressive if Hibs can finish the season with a similar amount of goals against but with 19 matches remaining, Maloney will have to spark a huge turnaround in the backline.

Successive clean sheets for the first time since the end of August / start of September may be a sign of progress – so long as the rearguard cuts out the daft mistakes that have been prevalent in their performances this season.

Tactical tweaks

Hibs lined up against the Dons in a 3-4-1-2 formation, changing (eventually) to a 3-4-3 when Jamie Murphy came on for Scott Allan on the hour mark. While Hibs tended to go with a 4-2-3-1 or flat 3-5-2 under Jack Ross, it is perhaps noteworthy that David Gray also opted for a 3-4-1-2 in the 1-0 win against Dundee.

It appears to be the formation that best suits the current crop of players but if Maloney can get them up to speed with the 3-4-3 then it offers another option in some matches.

Ross actually lined his side up in a 3-4-3 against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in October but perhaps lacked the personnel to make it a success.

Maloney has previously spoken of his approach to different matches. The 3-4-3 appears to be one option currently – could that change depending on arrivals and departures next month? It’s also worth noting that, although the formation started off as a 3-4-1-2, Kevin Nisbet was dropping deep at times leaving Boyle as the furthest forward, creating a 3-4-2-1 arrangement.

As was often the case under Ross, Hibs mostly attacked down the right flank. It was no real surprise to see Maloney mostly stick with tried-and-tested tactics but the subtle tweaks made a difference. We are likely to see more and more tweaks as Maloney settles into the role and begins implementing his style on the players.

Intensity

Hibs flew out of the blocks last night, playing with an energy and dynamism we haven’t seen very much of this season. The team was unable to keep it up for the full 90 minutes, unsurprisingly, but Maloney was relaxed about it after the game, pointing out that the players had done well to implement as much of his ideas as they had given just two training sessions before the match.

The shift in the latter stages to going long was likely to account for Sunday’s efforts and to avoid knackering the squad ahead of the Boxing Day trip to Dundee United – a plan B, if you like.

Pro-active subs

Not that Jack Ross didn't ever make pro-active substitutions but it was interesting to note that both replacements after the enforced switch bringing Alex Gogic on for the injured Jake Doyle-Hayes had an impact on the final result.

Scott Allan making way for Jamie Murphy prompted a switch to the 3-4-3 formation but also put Boyle on corners and it was his set-piece five minutes after that change that led to the winning goal – also the second centre-back to score a goal from a Boyle corner in as many games after Paul Hanlon’s Hampden opener.

Lastly, Christian Doidge coming on for Nisbet gave Hibs a focal point in attack, allowing them to go long with more ease as they looked to see out the game.

Expect to see more of this from Maloney going forward, perhaps even starting on Boxing Day at Tannadice.

Promising start

Defeating a team on a run of three successive victories and keeping a clean sheet is impressive, especially considering Hibs’ run of form earlier this season and the impact both psychologically and physically of Sunday’s cup final defeat.

No one is pretending that it was the complete performance or that there isn't room for improvement but a winning start, successive league victories, a clean sheet, and moving up the table is no small achievement for a new manager against tricky opposition.

Tannadice on Boxing Day will be another test but the early signs are good.