Where Hibs need to strengthen in transfer window - what Lee Johnson has said, role youngsters could play
and live on Freeview channel 276
The summer transfer window opened yesterday and already one player has left Hibs, left-back Marijan Čabraja returning to his homeland to join HNK Rijeka, while the club is also closing in on a return for Manchester United defender Will Fish, having already signed forward Élie Youan on a permanent basis. There is still a long way to go until the deadline but with Hibs spending a week training in Spain next month before embarking on their Europa Conference League qualifying campaign, manager Lee Johnson is understandably keen to get the bulk of his business done sooner rather than later.
There are some obvious areas of the squad needing surgery if Hibs are to better last season’s fifth-place finish in the cinch Premiership, go deep in both domestic cup competitions, and progress in Europe and the arrival of Brian McDermott as director of football will be crucial to the club’s summer recruitment efforts.
Murray Johnson’s season-long loan to Queen of the South and the departures of Tom Carter and Kevin Dąbrowski under freedom of contract have left Hibs with just one senior goalkeeper in the squad: David Marshall played in all but one of Hibs’ 43 competitive games last season and came in for criticism on occasion but the 38-year-old received backing from his manager last month, who said: “A midfielder can make 100 mistakes and no one mentions it but a goalkeeper makes one mistake and it costs you a goal. Over the course of the season he has been really calm, really secure, and composed and he is an experienced goalkeeper.”
Hibs could do with a competitive back-up to Marshall. Planning ahead by bringing in a younger, competitive ‘keeper who could step up if Marshall hangs up his gloves this time next year could be one option, but another point of consideration is that Hibs require three registered goalkeepers for European games. There is also Johnson’s development to consider. He is highly rated but only turns 19 in November and depending on how he progresses with the Doonhamers and beyond, it may be a while yet before he is viewed as a first-choice option for Hibs.
Ideally a competitive back-up ‘keeper is needed along with a younger shot-stopper who can share development games with last year’s under-18s ‘keeper Freddie Owens. The new development-level goalie would presumably take the third spot in the European squad.
Chris Cadden’s long-term injury lay-off and CJ Egan-Riley’s uncertain-for-now future means Lewis Miller is the main option at right-sided full-back for Hibs. Midfielder Josh Campbell has covered the position on occasion in the past, but this season might come too soon for promising academy defender Kanayo Megwa. He shone in the UEFA Youth League campaign, impressed on loan at Kelty Hearts, and has caught the eye in development squad games but this might be the season to slowly integrate him into the senior squad rather than pitching him in from the start. It may be that Johnson looks to bring in a versatile player capable of playing at right-back and centre-back, offering cover for Miller without blocking Megwa’s pathway.
Hibs are in talks to bring Will Fish back from Manchester United on another season-long loan but Johnson likes to have at least four first-team centre-backs in his squad. It’s not impossible that one of those could be a more versatile player but at the end of last summer’s window he had Fish, Rocky Bushiri, Paul Hanlon, and Ryan Porteous who are all natural CBs – although Porteous did go on to play a few games as a holding midfielder. Kyle McClelland is heading out on loan to Queen of the South and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jacob Blaney head out on loan as well.
Marijan Čabraja’s exit leaves stalwart Lewis Stevenson and 19-year-old academy product Oscar MacIntyre as Johnson’s left-back options. A loan spell to allow regular gametime for the youngster is a possibility if he isn’t deemed ready for regular senior football so you would imagine another left-back will be brought in, or at least someone capable of playing the position.
Hibs are well stocked in midfield – Campbell, Jake Doyle-Hayes, Ewan Henderson, Jimmy Jeggo, Kyle Magennis, Joe Newell, and Nohan Kenneh are all part of the squad while Allan Delferrière and Robbie Hamilton could be on the fringes after impressing last season, while Murray Aiken is heading to Airdrie on loan. Dylan Tait is another midfield option too. If Johnson is keen to trim his squad, could there be movement from his engine-room ranks? Seven is a big number for, at most, three positions on matchday.
Aiden McGeady’s departure and Cadden’s long-term injury, coupled with uncertainty over Martin Boyle’s timeframe for a return, leaves Hibs with just Jair Tavares as an out-and-out wide options as things stand, although Youan can obviously perform well on the wing. The Portuguese winger played 237 minutes across nine games last season although Johnson spoke highly of his performances in bounce games and suggested he just needed time to adapt and settle. And what of Dan Mackay’s future? If Johnson is planning on using formations with wide players, he will have to add to his options on the flanks.
It could be a big summer for Elias Melkersen, who may have a chance to stake a claim for the number nine spot following Kevin Nisbet’s transfer to Millwall and a lack of gametime on loan at Sparta Rotterdam. Josh O’Connor will hope to show Johnson what he can do on loan at Airdrie, Harry McKirdy and Youan can also play up top, as can Boyle, and the possibility of getting Mykola Kukharevych back from Troyes in some capacity has been discussed – but Hibs will almost certainly add to their options up top, with Nisbet leaving large boots, and a considerable goal tally, to fill.