Why Josh Campbell is helping Hibs cope with absence of Kyle Magennis
Few people could have predicted after his six-minute cameo against Motherwell in the opening game of the season that Josh Campbell would, before the calendar year was up, be an integral part of the Hibs first team. Not because he lacks ability or the required character, but the midfield was performing to such high levels that it would have been folly to change it up unless unavoidable.
The midfielder has now played in the last four games and doesn’t look like losing his place any time soon. He is just as happy dropping deep as he is bursting from the middle of the park to support the forwards.
In the latter stages of the match in Perth he was playing as an auxiliary centre-half to allow Paul Hanlon a free role on the wing and in the middle of the park as Hibs overwhelmed Callum Davidson’s side.
But a fifth of Hibs’ total shots on goal against St Johnstone also came from Campbell, his closest effort a first-half header that smacked off the post and had Zander Clark scrambling to make sure it stayed out of the net.
At a time when the Easter Road side is missing the industry of Kyle Magennis, who got his 2021/22 season off to a flyer before being cruelly struck down by a niggling groin inury, Campbell is looking more and more like an ideal stand-in. The former St Mirren man could potentially be out for the bulk of the congested fixture list over the next four weeks, giving his understudy ample time to make his mark.
In the three games since his second-half substitute showing against Celtic in the 3-1 defeat a month ago, Campbell has improved. The visit of Rangers on league duty on Wednesday night will be a stern test but not one about which the 21-year-old should have any apprehension.
He has earned his spot in the team and will be expected to keep it with the same tenacity he shows when he holds off opponents.
Under the radar
A key part of the Hibs youth team that won the league and cup double in 2018, Campbell almost flew under the radar as team-mates Jamie Gullan, Sean Mackie, Fraser Murray, Ryan Porteous, and Oli Shaw all got their first-team chance ahead of him.
He has worked hard since then, a handful of loan spells not really working out until he hit the ground running at Edinburgh City last season.
His performances for the League Two side suggested that there was a player there – capable of playing at a higher level.
Ten goals and four assists in 31 games backs that up, but it’s also worth noting that some players are simply late developers when it comes to readiness for first-team football.
From the brink to the bench
Campbell was utilised in the early part of the season, starting in the second leg of the Europa Conference League second-round qualifier against FC Santa Coloma and setting up Jamie Murphy for a goal. That substitute appearance at Fir Park suggested he might be in line for more gametime, but he wasn’t seen again until the Celtic game.
Campbell’s contribution in the second 45 helped Hibs recover some of their respectability as they kept the Hoops at bay and had a couple of chances of their own.
Jack Ross was effusive in his praise for the boyhood Hibs fan after that game. There are far more experienced midfielders that he has elbowed out of the way in order to grab that starting berth but at this moment in time, it's his to lose.
It would be no surprise to see Campbell get off the mark for Hibs before 2021 is out. He had half-chances against Rangers and Ross County and as mentioned came close to breaking his duck at McDiarmid.
Captain Paul Hanlon admitted after the loss in Dingwall that the rest of the Hibs team should be chipping in more to help out the strikers. Kevin Nisbet's response was to score three against St Johnstone, albeit with two ruled out, while Campbell, Chris Cadden, and Ryan Porteous all rattled the woodwork but Campbell especially looked at times as though he was on a one-man mission to fulfil Hanlon’s wish.
Players can only improve with gametime and right now Campbell is getting the games and showing improvement. He may not be contributing goals like Magennis was pre-injury but the rest of his all-round play is on a par with that of the 23-year-old and he is growing in confidence in front of goal too.
He is not a carbon-copy of his midfield colleague but with ‘Ginto’ sidelined for the foreseeable, Campbell is a more than worthy replacement.
He deserves credit for getting the head down, working hard, and forcing his way into the first-team plans when it might have been easier to seek regular first-team football elsewhere.
Ross told the Evening News during pre-season: “Josh has been at the club for a number of years and desperately wants to be a Hibs player. I saw him a couple of times with Edinburgh City last year and all you can do when you go on loan is make an impression and he did that with the number of goals he scored.
"He’s got good attributes to be a successful player and has put himself much more in the reckoning.
"I’m pleased with his progress so far and compared to where he was last pre-season, he is significantly ahead of that.”
By all accounts Campbell has continued to progress and rather than putting himself in the reckoning, is on his way to becoming a fully paid-up member of the first team if he isn’t already there.
St Johnstone was his strongest performance yet and if he can build on it against Rangers on Wednesday night and beyond, Magennis’ absence might not be so keenly felt.