Hibs have been linked with Hamilton’s Ali Crawford, with the midfielder approaching the end of his time at New Douglas Park. Craig Fowler looks at why Neil Lennon is so keen on the 26-year-old
At present, Hibs have a selection of central midfielders that is the envy of every team in the country with the exception of Celtic.
It says a lot for the quality at Easter Road that Danny Swanson (scorer of 15 goals last season with St Johnstone), Marvin Bartley (one of the most intimidating midfield destroyers in the country) and Vykintas Slivka (a Lithuanian international with 22 caps) have largely been relegated to the role of back-ups this year as Scott Allan, Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn sparkle on a weekly basis.
However, the club could be set for a summer of upheaval in this position. McGinn is being touted for a move as he enters the final 12 months of his deal.
McGeouch’s contract expires at the end of this campaign, with little sign of a new deal being agreed. And although there’s a decent chance loanee Scott Allan will join Hibs permanently, while he remains a Celtic player there are no guarantees he’ll definitely be at Easter Road next term.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand why Neil Lennon is looking at Ali Crawford, and considering a swoop for the Hamilton Accies midfielder.
The 26-year-old’s contract at New Douglas Park expires this summer and, after more than a decade at the club, he is keen for a new challenge, especially after a frustrating 2017/18 campaign blighted by injuries.
He’s featured just 19 times in all competitions this term.
Unless Accies drop into the relegation play-offs, it’ll be his lowest total of games played since 2011/12, when he was just establishing himself as a first-team player at the then-Championship side.
Furthermore, his career has stagnated somewhat over the past 18 months and pastures new may get him back to his best. This is a player who was linked with lucrative moves to the English Championship in the January transfer window of 2017 off the back of nine goals in the first half of that campaign. He’s netted just twice since.
Of the current Hibs midfield, Allan is the most similar to Crawford, at least in terms of positional sense.
Crawford is essentially an attacking midfielder. Maybe not quite a luxury No. 10, but certainly more forward-thinking than your average No. 8. He’s not quite as inventive as Allan, though few players are in Scottish football.
The advanced statistics make for intriguing reading from a Hibs perspective. Even in a below-par season, Crawford still sits sixth in the SPFL Premiership for scoring chance key passes per 90 minutes (0.77).
Allan is second overall with 1.09. It’s a drop off, but it’s almost impossible to go out and get someone of equal productivity as Allan, at least in terms of creating chances.
There are no other Hibs midfielders in the top 25 (per @TheGersReport).
There is more to Crawford’s game too. While he’s diminutive, he’s not afraid to get stuck in and nibble at the heels of opposing midfielders.
Along with Darian MacKinnon and Greg Docherty, he was part of a midfield three at Accies that made trying to play through the middle a nightmare for opponents.
He’s not afraid to shoot from distance, which is where a number of his goals come from. Last season he topped the table for attempts from outside the area (63).
He’s able to aim and fire with such frequency because he’s comfortable striking the ball with both feet.
What’s more, he’s also got a bit of a grudge against Hearts, having been released by the Tynecastle club as a schoolboy.
The last notable Hibs player to have dealt with that blow in their past - a certain Jason Cummings - certainly turned out all right.