More risks, faster tempo, advanced wing-backs - Shaun Maloney's Hibs plan analysed as prepares to build on foundations

There is an argument for the winter break coming at the wrong time for new manager Shaun Maloney and Hibs.

Hibs manager Shaun Maloney has been pleased with the way his team have taken to his ideas.
Hibs manager Shaun Maloney has been pleased with the way his team have taken to his ideas.

Following a wretched two-month run of league form that resulted in the club tumbling from second spot in the cinch Premiership down to seventh, culminating in Jack Ross losing his job as Hibs boss, the Edinburgh team have now won their last three league games and are only seven points off third-placed in Hearts in fifth.

One of those victories came under the tutelage of caretaker manager David Gray – an ugly yet important 1-0 triumph over Dundee – but the two wins Maloney has presided over have been much better, vanquishing fellow top-six rivals Aberdeen 1-0 and then Dundee United 3-1 on Boxing Day.

Hibs have played a lorry-load of games in recent months, with no free midweeks after a Covid-19 outbreak in October, so the players will no doubt enjoy some rest until their next match, away at Celtic, on January 17.

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 26: Hibernian's Kevin Nisbet (centre) celebrates making it 1-0 with Martin Boyle during a Cinch Premiership match between Dundee United and Hibernian at Tannadice Park, on December 26, 2021, in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Maloney, only a week into the job, will use the time wisely. The 38-year-old has already made some significant alterations to the way Hibs play and he will be able to implement more of his ideas on the training pitch.

One of the main gripes of the football played under Maloney’s predecessor Ross was that the build-up was too ponderous and the system too rigid. Last season, it worked, with Hibs claiming third in the league and reaching the Scottish Cup final, but in a more competitive league and an ever-demanding fanbase this season, Ross failed to find improvement in results and, crucially, style.

It is clear by the way Hibs play that Maloney has been tasked by the club’s hierarchy to play possession-based, attack-minded football. The tempo of Hibs’ game has increased, with Jake Doyle-Hayes in particular asked to be the driving force in midfield. Passes are shorter, crisper and every player moves, looking for the ball. At the back, goalkeeper Matt Macey is being asked to play out to his defence, while Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon – two centre-halves that are confident on the ball – seldom go long. The ball spends most of the time on the deck.

Wing-backs Chris Cadden and Josh Doig are often the most advanced players in attack, mimicking James Tavernier and Borna Barisic at Rangers under Steven Gerrard. Hibs are looking to stretch the opposition in a 3-4-1-2 formation. Drey Wright was asked against Dundee United to play in the No 10 role, roaming in between the lines, and this tactic allowed him to play a big part in Hibs’ opening goal. Striker Kevin Nisbet dropped in between midfield and attack, allowing others to bomb on beyond him. The players are being asked to perform a variety of roles – and they look to be enjoying it.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 22: Martin Boyle in action for Hibernian during a Cinch Premierhsip match between Hibernian and Aberdeen at Easter Road, on December 22, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Hibs are clearly taking more risks. Maloney is telling them to be creative, to try things and not to be too disheartened if they don’t come off. He wants them to challenge themselves, to be brave on the ball, just as he was as a player.

Maloney was effusive in his praise of how his charges have taken to the new world. He wants to give all players a chance but wants to reinforce in certain areas. Hibs need another centre-half if a back-three is the way forward, which it appears to be. The winter break allows the new manager time to build on some early promise.

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