Worrying run of form
For all there have been positive moments in Hibs’ season, such as convincing home victories over Aberdeen and St Mirren and credible draws against Rangers and Hearts, Tuesday night’s defeat by the Staggies was the club’s fifth reversal in six cinch Premiership games. In this run is the abject 6-1 collapse against Celtic, as well as a 1-0 away loss at Dundee United, a 2-1 reversal at home to St Johnstone and Friday night’s 4-1 slump at Pittodrie. These figures are grim reading for manager Lee Johnson and his players. They are in severe danger of going into the World Cup break on a massive downer if they do not defeat Kilmarnock away on Saturday. It is the sort of form that will buy the boss little breathing space come the league’s resumption in December, with many fans venting their fury come full time against County. Crashing out of the top six come the weekend is now looking likely.
What has gone wrong at Hibs?
Johnson has called out fragility and softness in his squad on more than one occasion since the heavy loss at Celtic Park. Some commentators would argue he has aired too much dirty washing in public; others would say he is quite right to do so in the hope that it will provoke a reaction from his players. Johnson is right, this Hibs team are not good at dealing with adversity right now. They do not respond well to the concession of a goal or moment of trauma during the match, such as a red card or a VAR decision. But his criticism of the group has not drawn out a reaction either. If anything, the players look sapped of confidence.
There are too many key players either injured – Martin Boyle, their best forward, being a prime example – or not playing to their best level. Defender Ryan Porteous has dipped in the past few weeks, his defensive partner Paul Hanlon looks jittery, right-back Chris Cadden is too wayward too often with crosses, the midfield is not creative or robust enough in transitions and with the exception of Mykola Kukharevych, the forwards are misfiring. Elias Melkersen was given a rare start after battling concussion issues against County but he was way off the pace, while Elie Youan’s level has fallen off a cliff after his promising start to the season. The quality output from some of these players is becoming alarming.
Johnson cannot escape blame either. He admitted as much after Tuesday’s loss. Hibs have played some good football under the Englishman but the recent results are casting a shadow over any positive work. As the manager, he has to find a way to arrest the slide and toughen up his brittle team.
Have Hibs recruited poorly?
Hibs brought in a slew of players in 2022 – some identified by Johnson, some by his backroom staff, some by the previous management team under Shaun Maloney and some by head of recruitment Ian Gordon. At this juncture of the season, it is fair to assess a number of these players. Goalkeeper David Marshall looks an upgrade on Matt Macey, left-back Marijan Cabraja is solid enough and on-loan Ukrainian striker Kukharevych is a very promising forward. Nohan Kenneh, a 19-year-old defensive midfielder, has done okay too and centre-half Rocky Bushiri is improving. But the list of underwhelming players – brought in for decent money too – is starting to grow. Forwards Youan, Melkersen, Jair Tavares, Momodou Bojang and Harry McKirdy have done little or nothing to impress. Aiden McGeady is injured, which is not a massive surprise given his fitness concerns over the past few seasons. Ewan Henderson has shown occasional glimpses of promise but not enough to make his overall contribution tangible, while Demetri Mitchell has spent most of his time at the club on the treatment table. Right-back Lewis Miller was toiling before injury struck him and loanees Ryan Schofield (goalkeeper) and Will Fish (defender) have barely featured. New players should be afforded some time to adapt but at this juncture, Hibs look to have missed the dart board with a lot of these investments, some of them for sizeable chunks of cash. There are a lot of different nationalities and cultures in the dressing-room that don’t immediately fit with the Scottish game, and perhaps what Hibs need is a little more nous and experience in their team. Whether those charged with scouting and identifying players have that type of player in the contacts book remains to be seen.
Ross County revival
It would be churlish not to mention the Staggies. They were organised, combative and scored their goals at just the right time. Two wins on the spin for Malky Mackay’s men will do them the world of good. It also heaps pressure on bottom club Dundee United ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Kilmarnock. County are up to tenth, six points clear of the trapdoor, although a trip to Celtic Park awaits them on Saturday …
Hibs: Marshall 4; Porteous 3, Bushiri 5, Hanlon 3; Cadden 3, Henderson 3, Kenneh 3, Newell 3, Mitchell 2; Kukharevych 3, Melkersen 2. Subs: Stevenson 4, Youan 2, Campbell 2, Tavares 4. Ross County: Laidlaw 6; Johnson 7, Watson 7, Iacovitti 8, Harmon 8; Cancola 7, Loturi 8; Edwards 6, Tillson 6, Dhanda 7; White 6. Subs: Sims 3, Akio 3, Smith n/a, Hiwula n/a.