After two successive years of play-off disappointment, Hibs will be looking to avoid the pitfalls of the end-of-season knockout tournament by claiming the Ladbrokes Championship crown.
Alan Pattullo looks at five ways they can improve in order to make that happen.
Scottish Cup is in the trophy room
Did I hear that right? Yep, in case you’d forgotten, Hibs have won the Scottish Cup. They seem to be taking it with them everywhere right now, and why not? A pre-season exhibition match v Edinburgh City? Make sure Dave Gray walks out carrying the cup. Friendly v Tranent Juniors? Remember and pack the cup, lads.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Hibs stuck it on a plinth outside the tunnel before tomorrow’s opening league clash with Falkirk, even though the game’s not even at their own stadium. But what it means is that come January there won’t be interminable questions about hoodoos, 1902, ‘can this year be the year?’ blah blah. The pressure is off in that respect. One of the welcome consequences could be a club more at ease with itself and able to concentrate on what matters this season: promotion.
Now, no one claiming he is a world-beater on the evidence of his first few run outs. But he clearly has something and, once he gets up and running, could well prove a handful for opposition defences in the Championship.
One of the complaints about the Anthony Stokes-Jason Cummings partnership, good though it sounded on paper, is that they were too similar and were just not suited to playing together. Holt and Cummings seem more of a natural fit – the big man knocking things down to Cummings, whose finishing prowess is beyond doubt. But Cummings, now settled again after signing a new contract extension, is also a provider – Holt will relish getting on the end of his young strike partner’s assists.
Add James Keatings into the mix and Hibs still look pretty well served in attack.
Hibs might well have got this position sorted - finally. Not soon enough as far as their European ambitions were concerned, granted, but by signing 26 year-old Israeli international goalkeeper Ofir Marciano on a season’s loan, manager Neil Lennon might well have solved a seemingly eternal problem at the club, which is goalies. Mark Oxley was a decent performer last season but not everyone was convinced by his ability at cross balls, including, seemingly, Alan Stubbs by the end.
The legend of Conrad Logan, meanwhile, is exactly that – now left to legend. Given his performance in Denmark v Brondby, Hibs could well have a decent back-up too in Ross Laidlaw.
Unencumbered by the pressure that might have weighed heavily on Alan Stubbs’ shoulders had he remained after two failed attempts at promotion, Lennon comes into the new league season with a clean slate.
If we put to one side the five-game European ban already picked up from Uefa, Lennon has had a pretty decent start after losing out unluckily on penalties to Brondby in the Europa League. Hopes are high and like Stubbs, Lennon is talking a good game already.
He also has something to prove after a disastrous Bolton Wanderers sojourn, where his hands were tied at a club already well on the way to imploding when he joined. But he doesn’t want a second successive perceived failure on his hands after such a promising start to his managerial career at Celtic. This mission to get Hibs up this season has surely fired his ambition.
Hibs had him last season too of course, but with a season under his belt, and a decent rest in the summer, surely Easter Road fans can expect even better things from this player this season.
An on-form McGinn keeps Hibs ticking. The 21-year-old will be desperate to get Hibs out of the Championship, which is no place for his talents. It is a major boost for the club that he is still at Easter Road. As long as Hibs can avoid a Scott Allan scenario where another club comes sniffing around him in the first weeks of the season, Lennon will relish building his side around someone good enough last season to be capped despite playing second-tier football.