Neil Lennon has targeted second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership next season, and at first glance this hardly seems like the type of signing that’s going to get Hibs closer to that goal.
Simon Murray finished the season strongly, scoring in four of Dundee United’s six play-off games, but over the course of the regular season he netted only ten goals in the Championship. Furthermore, there were times when the Tannadice faithful were crying out for a new striker, believing Murray incapable of being the man to lead them back to the top flight. Giving credence to their protests was boss Ray McKinnon, who’d sometimes prefer midfielder Anthony Andreu as the lone striker in the team’s 4-2-3-1 prior to January.
Murray undoubtedly improved as the season went on, but he’ll now have to handle the step up in class. When he was last among the big time, with United, he had flashes of good play, but was largely on the periphery as the club dropped out of the top flight.
That being said, a good pedigree does not always equate a good signing, and there are many examples of clubs who cherry-pick players from the lower leagues and get the same productivity, if not better, despite the higher standards of opposition.
One thing is for sure, Neil Lennon will know Murray very well. Not only have Hibs squared off against United four times this season, but Lennon is reported to have tried to sign the player last summer. He’s scouted him, kept tabs on him and watched him play against Hibs. There is something in Murray’s game that he believes will be beneficial to his side, and who is this writer to argue?
Murray has two primary attributes: speed and work ethic. The guy can shift and he’s willing to run himself into the ground, going 110mph from start to finish. This, more than anything else, is what’s endeared him to United fans and why they’re sad to see him go. It’s also probably a big reason why Lennon wants him. Murray is someone who can be relied on to give his all in every single game, something the Hibs boss accused his players of not doing this past season.
He’s a streaky scorer, often netting in bursts of four or five games before going spells without finding the target, but he does know how to find the back of the net. And while he’s not particularly imposing, there is power in his game, particularly when he builds up a head of steam.
His weaknesses are fairly obvious. As a technical footballer he’s pretty limited, and it’s why he struggled more as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 than he did as part of a two-man unit.
Towards the end of the campaign, Murray and January addition Thomas Mikkelsen formed a potent, old-fashioned, little-n-large pairing. That’s not to say Murray is short (he isn’t) but the Danish arrival was much stronger in the air, and Murray began to feed off his knockdowns.
Already Hibs fans can probably imagine what role Murray will have next season, because they saw something similar with Grant Holt and Jason Cummings last term. If that is to be the case, expect another striker to arrive. Holt has departed, and while Brian Graham remains on the books, after his disappointing season in the Championship, it’s hard to imagine Lennon using the former St Johnstone and Ross County man as the primary target man.
Some may wonder if Murray could be used as a partner for Cummings. There will be matches where the two could mesh as a pairing, particularly home games against weaker sides where the movement and running of the duo around the final third could cause defences a lot of problems. But in tougher games there’s just not enough ball retention in the pairing. Neither are particularly adept at holding up the ball and the team would find itself camped deep in their own half as a result. It’s likely that, for the meantime, Murray has been signed as the back-up to Cummings, with the option of rotating the two.
There’s also the wrinkle of whether Cummings may leave during the summer and, if he’s on his way, has Murray been signed as the man to replace him. Time can only tell if that’s the case.