Though deeply disappointed cup winning boss Alan Stubbs decided to return to England and take up the manager’s job at Rotherham, Hibs fans were quickly placated when it emerged that Neil Lennon would be their new manager.
The Northern Irishman did a fine job with Celtic and the Easter Road faithful are confident he can repeat some of that success at Easter Road.
While he’s going to struggle to top winning the club’s first Scottish Cup in 114 years, he’s got a great chance at doing what Stubbs couldn’t and that’s getting Hibs out of the second tier.
In order to do so, he’ll need to be at least as proficient as his predecessor was at signing players in the transfer market.
Though Stubbs never managed his original objective of winning promotion, there’s little doubt the squad is stronger than the shambles he inherited from Terry Butcher. He pretty much had to build an entirely new unit and, on the whole, did a decent job of it.
Craig Fowler ranks each of the signings by placing them into handy categories.
Dylan McGeouch, Scott Allan, John McGinn, Liam Henderson
Allan and McGinn speak for themselves. Though McGinn wasn’t signed as a replacement to Allan initially, he would take over his former (brief) team-mate’s mantle as the talisman in the centre of the Hibernian midfield and someone the Scottish press fell in love with.
The other two arrived on loan from Celtic and became heroes at Easter Road. McGeouch was so influential to the Hibs midfield, particularly when Stubbs lined his team up in the 4-4-2 diamond. He could both dictate play and committ opposing midfielders, opening up space for others. The only thing missing from his game was a greater goal return, and perhaps fewer injuries. Henderson was already a firm fan favourite for his energetic showing at the attacking midfield spot before his arrival on the field in the Scottish Cup final swung the game in Hibs’ direction.
Martin Boyle, David Gray, Liam Fontaine, Dominique Malonga, Fraser Fyvie, Marvin Bartley, Darren McGregor, Conrad Logan, Niklas Gunnarsson, Anthony Stokes
Go ahead and include Gray and Stokes in the ‘stars’ list if you feel being the two goalscorers in the cup final is worthy of a place. In fairness, Stokes might even have been looked upon as a ‘miss’ were it not for his Hampden heroics as he performed well below expectations following his January move.
The rest - with the exception of Boyle, Logan and Gunnarsson, who provided solid cover and played well when given the chance - are close to be considered stars but come with cavaets. Bartley performed excellently in the bigger matches but struggled to make an impact against smaller teams in the Championship when more emphasis was placed on his abilities with the football. Fontaine had a great first season before suffering an average 2015/16. Malonga could infuritate and delight in equal measures, sometimes in the space of one match. While Fyvie was a vital cog due to his movement off the ball but sometimes struggled with his passing accuracy.
McGregor is probably the most unfortunate not to make the ‘stars’ list. He had some towering performances, usually in the bigger games, but Hibs defensive record wasn’t all that great with him in the side which, unfairly or not, doesn’t reflect well on a centre back.
THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Mark Oxley, Keith Watson, Tomáš Černý, James Keatings
Perhaps a little harsh on Oxley because he has been the goalkeeper for the majority of his two years at Easter Road thus far. He was signed to play in the second tier and at that level, he’s fine. But then Hibs weren’t paying your average Championship side wages, and Stubbs would have been hoping for more than a stopper who lost his job at the latter end of the second campaign. Also, Hibs fans were never 100 per cent convinced.
Keatings had a poor run of form during his loan season, but he was signed as a third-choice striker and he’s done a decent enough job under those expectations. Watson provided short term cover while Cerny was signed only as a back-up for half a season. Had Stubbs ever played him he probably would have become a ‘hit’.
THE JURY’S OUT
Jamie Insall, Dan Carmichael, Otso Virtanen
Insall is a young striker who was quickly put out on loan, Carmichael spent the majority of his debut season injured and Virtanen is viewed as one for the future. Although, regarding the latter, it doesn’t bode well that he couldn’t beat out Logan as the replacement for Oxley when the starter was suspended and then dropped.
Matthew Kennedy, Jake Sinclair, Farid El Alagui, Franck Dja Djédjé, Antonio Reguero, Adam Eckersley, Chris Dagnall, Kevin Thomson, Henri Anier
El Alagui should and would have been a hit if not for his constant injury problems. Dja Djédjé didn’t live up to the hype but Hibs got lucky when he was signed by another club with a year-and-a-half (check) still left on his deal.
Thomson played well in parts but never really fitted into the Hibs midfield as the restrictions of the diamond called for a younger, fitter, more dynamic player. Anier provided a couple of flashes from the bench but it would be generous to label his loan deal a success. The rest are self explanatory.
THE OH MY GOD, WHY?
Given his lack of playing time anywhere else and serious questions surrounding his character, it never looked like a good signing from the start and Hibs didn’t need him with Jason Cummings, Malonga, Keatings, Anier, Insall and El Alagui already at the club.
A manager should be right in the transfer market at least 50 per cent of the time and it’s clear to see that Stubbs met that objective. Though he missed his initial goal, he left Lennon with a stronger squad in which to build on.
The former Celtic boss has just started his recruitment with the signing of Grant Holt. It’s an interesting selection, but there’s sure to be more to come.