This match was played in poor conditions, with persistent rain making the pitch very slick, not to mention the strong gusts of wind that swirled around Fir Park. Those factors must be taken into consideration.
Hibs had the benefit of playing the last 20 minutes with an extra man following the dismissal of Motherwell’s Liam Donnelly, but they failed to take advantage. It was one of those games where you could have played into the small hours and neither team would have scored.
No shots on target again for Hibs
For the second cinch Premiership match in a row, Hibs failed to record a shot on target. Last time out in the league against Celtic, Kevin Nisbet came closest when he hit the post from close range, but the main man in attack for Hibs never really had a sniff at goal against Motherwell. He and Chris Mueller started up front together for the first time and instant rewards were not reaped. Nisbet still looks a few levels beneath where he was this time last season, and while his overall performance was okay, you never felt a goal was coming from him.
Substitute Christian Doidge has Hibs’ best chance in the final ten minutes, but he lacked composure when blazing over the crossbar. That miss sums Hibs up at the moment. When chances come their way, they don’t look like taking them. Even against Cove Rangers in the Scottish Cup, when they won 1-0 in extra time, that ice-cold nature in front of goal let them down. We know Nisbet and Doidge can score – last season proves that – but they are not at the required standard right now
More issues in the final third
It’s not just about the finishing, either. Wing-backs Chris Cadden and Josh Doig put in some inviting crosses from the flanks, but there is nobody in position to finish them. Manager Shaun Maloney relies on his wide players to get high up the pitch and be a real source of creativity. That part of the team is working well, but Nisbet, Mueller and Doidge aren’t in the right places at the right time, while there is not the quality runs coming from midfield to get on the end of these deliveries.
Josh Campbell was tasked with getting forward from the engine room, but he has gone off the boil since his breakthrough into the first team in terms of attacking input, while Joe Newell and Jake-Doyle Hayes prefer to sit deeper and dictate play from closer to the defence. Newell, to his credit, played well and tried to break forward, but it’s not his natural game. He is not a goalscorer.
Once fully fit, Ewan Henderson will be tasked with playing just behind the front line. He looked lively enough when he came on at Fir Park. But with less than a week left of the transfer window, Hibs may be in the hunt for a midfielder who can help a misfiring strikeforce out. The return of Kyle Magennis, sidelined for months through injury but now back in training, may help too.
Far too early to judge Maloney
If there are some Hibs fans already asking questions of the Maloney era after recent results and performances, then they need to put a few things into perspective.
Firstly, when Maloney arrived, Hibs were seventh in the league, but are now up into fifth and have defeated rivals Aberdeen and Dundee United. Only Celtic have vanquished them under the 39-year-old. Considering the run under Jack Ross before he was sacked last month, Hibs are better placed to challenge for the European spots, even if Hearts are nine points clear in third place right now.
Secondly, Maloney is asking the players to adapt the way they play. This was in evidence again against Motherwell. They are building from the back, asking wide men to stretch teams and looking for crisp passes and continual rotation in position from players. In such challenging conditions as those at Fir Park, a judgement on what was served up would be unfair.
Thirdly, Maloney has not fielded the same starting XI once since arriving. This is mainly down to injury and suspensions, plus he is wanting to give all of his players a chance to stake a claim. Paul McGinn and Ryan Porteous have been banned, while new signings Elias Melkersen and Harry Clarke are either settling in or suffering from injury. Captain Paul Hanlon was the latest player to be struck down by injury, and his heel problem could keep him out for a few weeks yet.
Finally, this Hibs team needs to adapt to life without Martin Boyle. The sharp edge of it has been removed. Boyle was their top goalscorer, top assist-maker and a big figure in the dressing-room. A fee of £3million is big dollar for Hibs, but he leaves a considerable hole, one that will take time to be filled. This Hibs team, like it or not, is in a state of flux right now.