IT may not yet be the end of June, but Pat Fenlon has already tied deals up for new boys Owain Tudur Jones and Liam Craig.
With pre-season starting on Monday, thanks to their participation in the Europa League qualifiers, it was vital that Hibs boss Fenlon worked furiously behind the scenes to secure their services before the squad reports back. Former Hibs hitman Keith Wright reckons the early addition of the midfield duo, plus the signing of left-back Ryan McGivern, who spent last season on loan at Easter Road, could just pay dividends for his former club.
While last season it was left largely to Leigh Griffiths to bag the goals – 28 in total – Wright reckons Jones and, in particular, Craig, will help take the pressure off the Easter Road side’s strikeforce – whoever may be playing up front next season.
“I think there was definitely too much responsibility on Leigh’s shoulders last season,” said Wright. “Hibs had lots of very similar players in midfield; they all liked to play football and go across the park rather than then get forward. While they were all good players, they could have done with scoring a few more goals between them.
“The guys Pat has just signed will certainly try to push forward and I can see them chipping in with four, five or even six goals each next season, which will be an added bonus.”
Not only does Wright think Fenlon’s new boys will bring a goal threat though, he says they will also add some real quality to the pool of players at Easter Road. “Ryan McGivern was one of the most consistent players last season and played in a number of different positions for the manager,” Wright added. “I think he could prove to be one of the most important signings for us and Pat will be happy to have him tied down. He is just a young guy, but he plays like he has been in the side for years.
“He stands out with his blond hair, but he also stands out because he wants to take part in the game and because of his quality. He seems older than his years and I think that’s probably down to the fact that he is a class act and he could be a really key player for us in the new season.
“When you look at Tudur Jones and Craig, they look like they have the potential to be cracking signings. They have both been playing really good football for really good teams.
“Pat has obviously been keeping a close eye on their progress and has brought them along at a good age. They’ve got their best years in front of them and hopefully Hibs will benefit from that. I’m looking forward to seeing Liam Craig, he will be a great asset in midfield, but he is also good at getting forward and creating or even scoring goals. He can play wide on the left and it’s important to get a good balance. There’s no doubt that they will be good additions to the squad.
“They’re relatively young players and will be really hungry and keen to make their mark on the side.
“They will feel that they are coming to a bigger club than St Johnstone or Inverness and I am sure they will want to prove they can make the step up in class.”
There is still some doubt over where Griffiths’ future lies and although there is still a chance he will return to Easter Road, Wright fears that his parent club Wolves might get bigger offers from elsewhere.
“Sparky” himself has said that he would like to be playing his football at Easter Road in the 2013/14 campaign, but, having scored close to 30 goals for Hibs in the last campaign, he is sure to be on wanted lists.
If he does move on to pastures new, Wright says it will be a test of all of Fenlon’s managerial skills to find a suitable replacement: “Like every other fan, I would hope that something can be arranged and Leigh could stay at the club, because he was sensational for us last season. But, being realistic, I think that Hibs would need to pay more than they’re paying out now. Rod Petrie will have a figure in his head and it’s unlikely that he will want to change that and it’s more likely that Leigh will get a go down south again.
“At the end of the day, we all know that it all comes down to finances. Hibs can’t buy strikers who are guaranteed 25 goals a season, but Pat Fenlon will have had his spies out for the last few months for that very reason.
“The manager will be worth his weight in gold if he can use his contacts books and scouts to bring in the best young players coming through who can score goals. This will be the real tester for him and for his backroom staff.”