Why Christian Doidge still has plenty to offer Hibs amid transfer rumours and living Leith's 'Persevere' motto
The banding between the lower and upper tiers of the West Stand at Easter Road carries wording synonymous with Leith: “When in doubt just keep in mind our motto, persevere’.
From being released by Southampton and Bristol Rovers as a youth, to playing for Cwmbran Celtic, Croesyceiliog, and Barry Town in the Welsh leagues and when he was combining police work with shifts up top for Carmarthen, to working his way up the English leagues with Dagenham & Redbridge and then Forest Green Rovers, to say nothing of his failed move to Bolton in early 2019.
He could be forgiven for cursing his luck when a seemingly imminent maiden call-up to the Wales national team was whisked away from him by the coronavirus pandemic.
A popular character in the Easter Road dressing room – he took on delivery duties for former team-mate and pal Melker Hallberg when the midfielder was forced to self-isolate in Edinburgh after returning from his native Sweden during the early stages of lockdown – Doidge endured a torrid 2021/22 campaign as Covid-19 disrupted his pre-season, a long-term Achilles injury limited his gametime shortly after he had returned to action, with a second injury then curtailing his already diminished season in the spring.
He turns 30 this week and is happy and settled at Hibs, with two years remaining on his contract, and feels he still has plenty to offer the side – and perhaps a point to prove as well.
Doidge has recently been linked with a return to former club Forest Green Rovers, but there is nothing in the rumours ahead of the transfer window closing on September 1 and he is fully focused on earning, and holding down, a starting spot at Hibs rather than looking to move elsewhere.
Role in Rangers equaliser
In the somewhat chaotic scenes following Josh Campbell’s equaliser against Rangers on Saturday, the key role played by Doidge may have flown under the radar.
It is perhaps understandable, given the many sub-plots to another incident-filled 90-plus minutes at Easter Road – Marijan Čabraja’s emotional return to the pitch after attending his father’s funeral in Croatia, the two penalty incidents and two red cards, another injury-time goal, a Scottish Premiership debut for Lewis Miller, a double substitution in the first half to name just a few.
Campbell rightly grabbed the headlines for his goal and his overall performance, but Doidge’s efforts in setting up the midfielder shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The Welshman was a first-half replacement for Ewan Henderson and his introduction, along with that of Čabraja, allowed Hibs to revert to the familiar 4-2-3-1 that Lee Johnson has favoured so far in his tenure and alter the roles of Martin Boyle and Élie Youan.
The arrival of Doidge allowed Hibs to change things up in attack by providing a focal point for long balls. Johnson said in his post-match press conference that his side weren’t aggressive or playing on the front foot enough for his liking and the bold double change after 28 minutes was risky, but ultimately paid off.
When Čabraja sent the ball towards the back post, there were seven Hibs players in the box including Doidge, with Campbell lurking in the ‘D’ on the edge of the box following Johnson’s last-ditch implementation of a Marcelo Bielsa-esque 3-3-3-1 formation as Hibs chased an equaliser against nine men.
If Doidge had missed the ball it would likely have been picked up by Miller or Youan, but by then the chance for an attempt on goal could have gone.
The striker let Borna Barisic run off him, then beat the Croatian defender in the air when the ball came in and in one movement directed the ball back to Campbell who brought it down on his chest before half-volleying into the net.
Why Hibs need Doidge
As things stand, Hibs aren't blessed with options in the attacking third. Kevin Nisbet will likely be sidelined until, realistically, after the break for the 2022 World Cup, while Momodou Bojang is a raw prospect whom Hibs will not want to burden with too many expectations.
Elias Melkersen has shown glimpses of his ability since Johnson came in but has flitted between playing out wide and centrally and is arguably still adapting to the Scottish game – something with which Doidge can assist.
Élie Youan looks a far more natural option as a wide forward despite Johnson musing about turning him into a number nine, while Martin Boyle can operate anywhere across the front three but is still getting up to speed with the style of play and fitness.
Doidge can operate in a front three, a strike duo, or as a lone frontman. His introduction on Saturday allowed Boyle and Youan to work on closing down the Rangers full-backs and allow Hibs back into the game, while also providing a long-ball option.
When one considers the drastic impact a lack of forwards had on Hibs in the second half of last season, can they really afford not to have a wealth of options up top?
Hibs struggled overall in the latter part of the previous campaign but were crying out for a player like Doidge to be available in some games.
Despite Johnson insisting that he is happy with his squad as things stand, he has also made no secret of his desire to bring in one or two more before the window closes and there are undoubtedly other positions needing reinforcements more urgently.
On top of that, Doidge is happy in the Capital for footballing and personal reasons and is working hard to hold down a regular starting slot.
He may need to persevere for a little longer, but with his darkest days now behind him Doidge looks to be sailing in the right direction.