Hibs endure a shaky start to the season


Peter Diamond

THE arrival of Lee Johnson to Hibs on May 16 at the conclusion of a disappointing season marked a new chapter after the hasty dismissal of Shaun Maloney.

The 41-year-old former Sunderland boss previously had a taster of the SPFL when he played for Kilmarnock during the 2012-13 season, appearing 20 times before retiring at the age of 32.

Things in the capital looked to be improving squad-wise, with a huge influx of experience in the squad, as players such as former Celtic starlet, now veteran shot-stopper, David Marshall and tricky winger Aiden McGeady penning two and one-year deals respectfully.

However, departing from the ranks was the highly-rated left back Josh Doig, who has followed a now established path for Scottish players moving to Serie A. The 20-year-old has signed for Hellas Verona for a fee of £3.24million. Fans will be hoping those in the boardroom were wise enough to include a healthy sell-on fee clause within Doig’s exit, if of course, he proves himself abroad.

Further business has seen Hibs capture former Celtic midfielder Ewan Henderson, who was already on loan at the club from January last season where he impressed in his 16 appearances. The 20-year-old will be looking to emulate and better his older brother’s achievements at Hibs over a loan spell in 2015-16 season. Coincidentally, Liam also moved to Serie A immediately following his spell in the capital where his career has flourished at Bari, Hellas Verona, Lecce and currently Empoli.

What hasn’t flourished is the form of Hibs in the close season. Poor displays against lower league opposition saw the club crash out of the Premier Sports League Cup. The group stage set-up saw their opening fixture against Clyde result in an impressive performance and a 5-0 win at Easter Road. However, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Falkirk and a 1-1 draw against Morton, which was subsequently awarded to the Greenock side as a 3-0 win for fielding an ineligible player, saw the Hibees crash out of the tournament.

The ‘administrative error’ prompted American owner Ron Gordon to make a statement on the embarrassing faux pas. He stated that his side’s elimination from the Scottish League Cup was an ‘ops department boo boo’ that ‘is not going to happen again.’

“This is the first time we haven’t advanced to the semi-final of a cup since I arrived at the club, so this is a major
disappointment,” Gordon told a group of Hibs podcasters on YouTube. “It wasn’t a good League Cup experience and we just have to leave that behind us and move forward.”

Gordon said the administration staff were ‘devastated,’ but suggested the ‘silver lining’ was that ‘it didn’t really change anything’ as it looked like Hibs were already heading out. As for the disappointing results, the chairman insisted that new team boss Johnson ‘is a terrific manager,’ but was in a ‘transitional period’ made worse by injuries and the late arrival of new signings because of work permit problems.

The squad suffered another set back when news of a significant injury to McGeady came to light. The winger is expected to be side-lined for at least a couple of months and has led to speculation that the Edinburgh club are looking at Celtic winger Michael Johnston as a ready-made replacement. The move could be great for both parties, with the winger be pushed further down the pecking order in Ange Postecoglou’s plans.

An opening day win against St Johnstone in Perth can only be seen as a great result for Hibs though given the changes over the summer and squad transition. Henderson set up a Josh Campbell header in the 90th minute to steal all three points against Callum Davidson’s side, and saw new left-back Marijan Cabraja turn in an impressive performance to claim man of the match. Although Hibs were the more dominant side on Saturday they didn’t really test the St Johnstone defence too much, something the manager admitted in his post match comments.

“We had very good control of the game but lacked a bit of quality in the final third,” Lee Johnson said. “It was difficult in the second half when they went down to 10 men. There was no flow to the game at all.

“We went for it, changed the formation to get a lot of attacking players on the pitch and it’s nice to get the result. We’ve got a lot of belief in ourselves and we’re going to get better.”

The next fixture is the Edinburgh derby at Easter Road which will provide greater insight into the character and strength of this new team as the season begins to take shape.