Why Hibs may end up playing a transfer waiting game this summer
When the summer transfer window opens on July 1, Hibs will already have made two signings – both left-wingers.
Jamie Murphy, who spent last season on loan from Rangers, joins on a permanent one-year deal while 20-year-old Daniel Mackay will make his transfer official from Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
At the Easter Road club’s AGM earlier this year Jack Ross revealed that a striker and a left-winger were top of his summer shopping list. Mackay is presumably ticks the box for the latter but things may not be so straightforward for Hibs on the striker front.
The club remains interested in bringing Leigh Griffiths back to the Capital for a third spell but that move might hinge on three factors: whether Celtic opt to activate an extension clause in the striker’s contract; if the 30-year-old fancies a move back to Hibs, and any interest in Kevin Nisbet – from Celtic or other parties.
The 24-year-old is on the Hoops' radar but with Celtic still to appoint a permanent successor to Neil Lennon there have been no firm approaches for the former Dunfermline Athletic forward from the east end of Glasgow.
Hibs did knock back multiple bids from Birmingham City for the player in January but if he catches the eye on the international stage with Scotland during the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament then the club will be braced for renewed interest in the player.
But it is not just the club’s sole Scotland player who could spark a bidding war this summer and with the club’s hierarchy presumably keen to add quality and depth to a squad competing on four fronts next term, it could be a busy summer.
Ofir Marciano might be away but the club moved quickly to get Kevin Dabrowski and Matt Macey tied up on two-year deals ahead of the summer. Hibs could feasibly scour the market for another ‘keeper but as things stand, there are other areas that arguably need work more urgently.
Both Josh Doig and Ryan Porteous could well attract interest during the close season. Doig had an outstanding breakout campaign and it was a cruel blow when injury ruled him out of his first involvement in the Scotland Under-21s. Porteous was another player in demand in January with Millwall hovering and now Queen's Park Rangers appear keen on the Scotland Under-21 centre-back.
If Doig was to leave, Hibs still have options at left-back in Lewis Stevenson and Sean Mackie but a Porteous exit would leave the club short on centre-back options with Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor as the only senior centre-halves. Club captain David Gray did play there during last season’s Betfred Cup group stages and Paul McGinn was often deployed on the right of a back-three but with European football, two domestic cup tournaments, and the league Hibs would almost certainly dip into the transfer market to bolster their backline choices. St Johnstone’s double-winning captain Jason Kerr was mentioned as a possible target towards the end of the season but with the club in a healthier state financially-speaking after the initial Covid-19 hit, it’s not unthinkable that they could look to bolster the rearguard regardless.
There is still a large question mark over Jackson Irvine’s future – he has an offer from Hibs and there’s a good chance he will make a decision one way or another following Australia's four World Cup qualifiers in early June. He certainly brought something to the midfield following his arrival in January but if he opts not to sign a new deal then Hibs will doubtless eye a replacement.
Stephen McGinn’s future is uncertain and although there were media reports casting doubt on Melker Hallberg’s future, the Evening News understands the player is not pushing for a summer exit.
After a first season in the Capital blighted by injury Kyle Magennis could well be like a new signing next term; a fully-fit Scott Allan likewise. There could well be a bit of movement in midfield but it’s an area of the team that shouldn’t need major surgery.
As mentioned, Nisbet’s future is probably the big “if” hanging over the attacking options. Jamie Gullan has returned from his loan spell at Raith Rovers, Chris Cadden should be fit again in time for the new season, and the club is actively exploring additions to the strikeforce.
Hibs perhaps rode their luck at times last season with just two out-and-out strikers for the second half of the campaign. Martin Boyle – whose reported £500,000 release clause could tempt some suitors this summer – was an able auxiliary but the addition of Europe and a need to build on the 2020/21 campaign will surely see the frontline strengthened regardless of who might be off.
Griffiths has already been mentioned but there was an interesting name among the players released by Sunderland at the end of the season: Chris Maguire. The Scot was one of the first signings made by Ross during his time at the Stadium of Light and he could add experience and something a bit different up top.
Can this squad compete?
If Hibs are to compete in the league, in Europe, and in both cup competitions then they will need to add quality to the squad as well as working with a larger pool of players than the 2020/21 campaign.
There is no doubt that as things stand, the current squad is certainly capable of competing with most opponents but there will be sterner tests in Europe and Hibs will have to be prepared for that.
The main issue facing Hibs is balancing incomings with potential outgoings. If they can manage to supplement the squad regardless, and replace any players who do leave, then they should be in a good place to build on the positives of the season just past.