Why Hibs' goalkeeping approach makes sense on all fronts - transfers, contingency plan, season prep
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The 26-year-old is a goalkeeper who is approaching his prime years – he turns 27 midway through the season – for whom Hibs paid a fee, and who has aspirations of regular international football. His arrival will mean competition for David Marshall in the last 12 months of his current contract, and Wollacott’s efforts will be further stoked by the chance to force his way into the Ghana starting XI. But what does the current Easter Road goalkeeping situation mean for the club and the individuals involved? Let’s take a look…
Contract: Summer 2024
Status: First choice, as things stand
The former Scotland No.1 arrived on a two-year deal last summer as the replacement for the outgoing Matt Macey. He started (and finished) all but one of Hibs’ competitive fixtures last season, remaining an unused sub as Lee Johnson’s side fell to a 1-0 defeat at Falkirk in the League Cup group stages with Kevin Dąbrowski given a chance to impress.
His distribution was seen as an upgrade on Macey’s and in the early part of the season many of his kicks or throws were instrumental in starting attacks. In the first half of the campaign he had Dąbrowski and Ryan Schofield as back-up, but when Schofield was recalled from his loan by parent club Huddersfield, and Dąbrowski went on loan to Queen of the South for the remainder of the season in January, Murray Johnson was rewarded for his meteoric rise by being installed as No.2.
The 38-year-old had been a relatively safe pair of hands but costly errors began creeping into his game following the turn of the year, possibly as a result of playing virtually every game but the psychological impact of not having an experienced back-up snapping at his heels in training might also have played a part. That’s not to take anything away from Johnson but given his tender years and understandable lack of senior experience, there was never really any chance that the manager would drop Marshall for the 18-year-old rookie.
The pre-season friendlies against Edinburgh City on Saturday at Meadowbank, Europa FC and Bournemouth in Spain, Groningen at Easter Road and potentially Blackpool in Lancashire will allow the coaching staff to gain an insight into which ‘keeper is likely to start the season as No.1. But as things stand, you’d imagine the sport is Marshall’s to lose.
Contract: Summer 2026
Status: Pushing for the No.1 spot
As mentioned, Wollacott is an interesting signing for a number of reasons but he arrival may also signal the start of some forward planning by Hibs. It remains to be seen if Marshall extends his playing career when his contract expires next summer but if he does, Wollacott provides a straightforward solution assuming all goes to plan. It’s broadly similar to when Hibs brought in Macey in the January so that when Ofir Marciano left, they had a seamless transition between the sticks in the summer. But Wollacott has a bit more riding on his Hibs career.
He lost his starting place for the Ghana national team to St. Gallen’s Lawrence Ati-Zigi through injury, and with the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations taking place in the early months of 2024 (having been postponed from earlier this year), time is not on his side to make an impact in Edinburgh and dislodge Ati-Zigi. That could be good news for him, it could also prompt Marshall to take things up a notch, and it’s good news for Lee Johnson as well who will have two goalkeepers refusing to give an inch in the battle for the Hibs No.1 berth.
It’s not unthinkable that Wollacott could get the League Cup games to give Marshall a break. It’s not really something Hibs have form for doing but it might make sense – just so Marshall isn’t playing every single game. What could be interesting is if Wollacott takes the number one spot before the AFCON, and what sort of dynamic that would create.
Contract: Summer 2025
Status: Development squad and third choice
It was little surprise that Hibs brought in a third goalkeeper. Three departed at the end of last season; two permanently (Dąbrowski and Tom Carter) and one on loan (Murray Johnson, to Queen of the South), and European requirements call for three goalkeepers in the matchday squad and calling upon last season’s under-18 ‘keeper Freddie Owens might have been a bit too much pressure on a player who has only had one or two development squad outings, never mind starts.
Boruc was brought in as third choice but with the expectation he will play most reserve and development games. But, if Wollacott does go to the AFCON, the Polish shot-stopper will likely be promoted to the first-team squad, giving him a chance to push for greater first-team involvement himself.
Contract: Summer 2027
Status: Gaining first-team experience with Queen of the South
A lot of fans wondered what Boruc’s arrival meant for Johnson. The answer was, ‘relatively little’, given the 18-year-old is spending the season on loan at Palmerston Park where he will – Hibs hope – gain plenty of senior SPFL experience to go with a handful of games for Airdrie last season. He will learn more from that than by playing third fiddle at Easter Road and playing in reserve and development games as he did for most of last season.
Hibs have high hopes for the teenage goalie and while he will have to fend off competition from Gordon Botterill to start for the Doonhamers, former Easter Road midfielder Marvin Bartley isn’t beyond giving youth a chance, so keep an eye on Dumfries during the coming season.