Hibs' defence has come under fire - but the real problems are now in attack
The Hibs defence has come in for some scathing criticism these last few weeks and justifiably so, but this week it’s the turn of those tasked with producing the goods in the final third.
Another 90 minutes has gone by without breaching their opponent’s goal and, with just four goals from the first five Premiership matches of the new season, it’s clear the current poor form runs far deeper than the back four.
The defending for Kilmarnock’s two goals yesterday was shoddy, particularly the home side’s opener. Full-back Stephen O’Donnell’s old-fashioned punt up the park left goalkeeper Ofir Marciano completely exposed and Liam Miller duly provided the finish.
That said, what is more concerning for Hibs supporters is that despite a couple of first-half long-range efforts from Daryl Horgan and Stevie Mallan, the visitors were devoid of ideas in and around the Kilmarnock penalty box. The writing was on the wall as soon as Miller had given the hosts the lead and the 902 Hibs fans housed in the Moffat Stand knew it too.
Florian Kamberi was again given the thankless task of running the line on his own. In truth, the Killie defence had a field day in dealing with the Swiss striker and that’s not a cheap shot in the direction of the former Grasshopper frontman. He had next to nothing to feed off, with those operating behind him largely ineffective. There was a real lack of a cutting edge about Paul Heckingbottom’s side and not for the first time this season. Even Scott Allan, the creative poster boy, is not playing to his best.
The manager did throw caution to the wind with Christian Doidge entering the fray, partnering Kamberi up top as the visitors chased the game late on, but that did little to engineer anything of note. And, on the rare occasion Hibs did find themselves in a more threatening position, a misplaced pass saw the move peter out.
At Fir Park prior to the international break, it was an all too similar narrative. It’s becoming clearer by the week that head coach Paul Heckingbottom is still unsure of his best starting XI and, furthermore, how to utilise those individuals’ strengths in key areas.
He will have analysed the defeats at Motherwell and Kilmarnock and will be sick to the back teeth in doing so, but he must now explore his options going forward because one up top looks increasingly unlikely to bring a change of fortune.
Looking at the bench at Rugby Park, an attacking quartet of Glenn Middleton, Oli Shaw, Joe Newell and Doidge – the latter two seeing game time in Ayrshire – shows the manager does have the personnel to reshuffle the pack and opt for a change in formation. Hibs have rarely played with two bona fide strikers this season, despite it being Heckingbottom's preferred method in England. All three of the strikers on Hibs' books - Kamberi, Doidge and Shaw - are better in a partnership rather than operating on their own.
Pointing the finger at the frontmen is too simplistic, though. There also needs to be improvement behind them. More creativity, movement and imagination is a must. Heckingbottom and his players need to discover a route to goal on Sunday in the derby to take advantage of a nervy, porous, under-pressure Hearts back-line. Because if they don't, the flak Hibs are getting right now is sure to intensify further, potentially to a point where there may be a point of no return.