On paper, Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray seemed like a good match for each other. Even though there’s only four years between them, you had Stokes, the experienced campaigner, and Murray, the younger Premiership novice. The latter was a streaky scorer, but the former was a reliable menace. Murray had pace, stamina and an unquestionable work ethic; Stokes had the ingenuity to make something happen out of nothing. Alas, it never really clicked.
Murray, a summer signing from Dundee United, impressed in patches but he never quite performed consistently, either inside or outside the box, to match the demands of a top-six club. Stokes performed on the park to an extent, yet he didn’t bowl over anyone with his play. He was good, not great, and in the end it wasn’t enough to save him when his off-field shenanigans caught up with him and Hibs decided to release him from his two-year contract.
Sending Murray out on loan to Dundee was a no-brainer and a big gamble at the same time. Bringing Scott Allan back to the club on loan from Celtic to play with Dylan McGeouch and John McGinn was something Hibs couldn’t pass up, though it left them with two largely unknown recent recruits and youngster Oli Shaw as their attacking corps. It didn’t look all too promising.
Fortunately for the Easter Road faithful, football has a way of surprising even the most seasoned observer. Because, even though it’s too early to say for certain, Swiss youngster Florian Kamberi and Australian hitman Jamie Maclaren already appear to be an improvement on the departed strike-partnership. Two mysterious foreigners have come in from mainland Europ on temporary deals and, on the back of two performances against the two sides immediately above Hibs in the league table, look as if they have what it takes to keep the club in the hunt for second place.
Watching them play together, there already seem to have the type of understanding you need in a partnership, and one which never quite existed for Murray and Stokes. When one picks up the ball, especially Kamberi, there’s an understanding of where the other will be, this is despite them meeting for the first time just a few weeks ago.
The two play within same vicinity, which also helps. They act as out-and-out strikers. Stokes, despite being one earlier in his career, appeared to have re-invented himself as a second striker or even No.10 when he returned to Hibs for the second time, and he kept up this persona after arriving for a third time last summer. Murray, meanwhile, would often run himself daft around the park chasing after the ball, especially if he’d just lost it. This was admirable, but didn’t make him a greater goal threat.
As a partnership, the strengths of Kamberi - on loan from Grasshoppers in Switzerland - and Maclaren, a loanee from German side Darmstadt, go together quite well. Kamberi is the bigger of the two, capable of holding up play with a smooth first touch and linking with those around him. He’s also solid enough in the air as well, if the first half at Ibrox is anything to go by, where he really gave the Rangers’ centre-back duo of Russell Martin and David Bates a troublesome time.
Maclaren, meanwhile, is smaller, quicker, more elusive. From early showings he likes darting into the channels. Though fans would like to have seen a greater goal return from the chances he’s had thus far - netting only a penalty in his two games despite several other opportunities - at least he’s getting into good areas and should start putting them away with greater regularity once he gets himself into a rhythm.
There have been so many occasions through the 2017/18 season where Hibs have failed to find victory despite outplaying their opposition. A lack of ruthlessness and failure to finish the game off was often the problem. Finally, it looks like they’ve solved that issue.