Why Hibs fans want a formation change - but they're unlikely to see it this weekend

Hibs manager Jack Ross has used an array of formations so far this campaign, though there’s one in particular the club’s supporters would like to see, as Craig Fowler writes
Hibs manager Jack Ross screams instructions to his players during the 1-0 victory over Dundee United. Picture: SNSHibs manager Jack Ross screams instructions to his players during the 1-0 victory over Dundee United. Picture: SNS
Hibs manager Jack Ross screams instructions to his players during the 1-0 victory over Dundee United. Picture: SNS

The Hibs support was far from satisfied with their team following Saturday's game against Motherwell and there was a fair amount of grumbling on social media despite them remaining undefeated and finishing the day atop the Scottish Premiership table.

This caused two factions to form: those who told the grumblers to stop moaning, seeing as they'd played four games, remained undefeated and yet to concede a goal from open play, a beginning to 2020/21 that surely any supporter would have taken at the outset; and those who feared a distinct lack of dominance in three of the contests could lead to trouble further down the road if certain issues couldn't be solved.

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An unexpected stat from Hibs' opening four games has concerned the amount of possession they've had. Only in the Livingston encounter did they enjoy more than their opposition and even then it was closer to 50-50 than it was 51-49 (per Wyscout), a surprisingly even split considering Livi's reputation for going direct and the defensive 5-4-1 set-up they adopted. In the other three matches Hibs gave up a 56-44 advantage to their opponents.

Livingston are also the only team to have attempted fewer shots than Hibs in the four meetings (again, via Wyscout), though the Easter Road side have managed to record a higher Expected Goals tally than the opposition in each match - another stat that may raise some eyebrows given Motherwell's perceived superiority on Saturday. It suggests they being patient and efficient in the final third and not snatching at half-chances just before they've got a sniff at goal.

It may also suggest head coach Jack Ross isn't necessarily flustered by the poor performances in either of the Dundee United or Motherwell games. When it came to the most important bit, putting the ball in the back of the net, Hibs had a better chance than the opposition in doing so, even if they didn't give as good an account of themselves in other areas of the park. That's largely what Ross has been doing so far: playing the percentages.

There have been calls from supporters to bin the 4-4-2 in the wake of the last two matches. Ross has been very flexible so far this campaign. Only in the emphatic Livingston victory did he stick to the same shape for 90 minutes. Against Kilmarnock they lined-up in a 3-5-2 before shifting into a 4-2-3-1. Against Dundee United they started in a 4-4-2 before the introduction of Scott Allan from the bench saw a change back to the 3-5-2, a system that was surprisingly absent at the weekend after continued struggles in the 4-4-2 instead precipitated a move to narrow 4-2-3-1 with Martin Boyle and Kevin Nisbet as inverted wide players.

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However, despite his tinkering, the shape of the side may not be as important to Ross as we may think. In each game, at least from the start, Hibs have looked to get the ball forward to the strikers quickly, with runners either coming from deep to support, whether that's Boyle and Daryl Horgan from the flanks, or Joe Newell/Scott Allan from the centre. They've also tried to hit teams quickly on the break, stretching opponents with the speed of Boyle along with the elusive movement of Nisbet and last season's top goalscorer Christian Doidge.

This has been the consistent gameplan so far this season. The formations are merely a function of how best to utilise that gameplan. In the 1-0 win at Tannadice it was about enhancing the attacking threat by bringing on Scott Allan to drop into areas of space between midfield and attack. In the 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock it was to shore up a potential weakness, as Ross feared the threat from Ross Millen's deliveries as he and right-flank partner Chris Burke doubled up on youngster Josh Doig.

Fans will still want the 3-5-2 to return for a couple of reasons. It brought quick success on the two occasions it has been deployed this term, and it gives Hibs a better chance of retaining possession against a league that mostly favours three midfielders in the centre. It's also a formation that has typically allowed Scott Allan to do his best work in a green-and-white shirt over his three stints at Easter Road.

However, it's highly likely they will not see it this weekend. New St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson has stuck to the 3-4-3 he introduced this summer through their three games and this has the potential to match up quite badly for the visitors. Sure, they'll have a man advantage in the centre, but if they play in the same direct manner then that likely won't matter as much. Instead the match will be won in either side's final third, with three St Johnstone centre-backs looking after two strikers and a straight three-on-three battle at the other end. Sticking with the four-man defence to offer his side an extra layer of protection playing away from home may appeal most.