Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2017/18 Scottish Premiership preview - Hibernian

Check out these other season previews: HeartsKilmarnockMotherwellRangers

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LAST SEASON: Scottish Championship winners

NOTABLE INS: Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Ofir Marciano (Ashdod, loan made permanent), Deivydas Matulevicius (Mouscron), Simon Murray (Dundee United), Vykintas Slivka (Juventus), Danny Swanson (St. Johnstone), Steven Whittaker (Norwich City)

NOTABLE OUTS: Jason Cummings (Nottingham Forest, £1.5m), Jordon Forster (Cheltenham Town), Scott Gallacher (Dumbarton), Danny Handling (Dumbarton), Alex Harris (Falkirk), Chris Humphrey (Bury), James Keatings (Dundee United), Brian McLean (IBV), Lewis Allan (Edinburgh City, loan), Sean Mackie (Edinburgh City, loan), Sam Stanton (Dundee United, loan), Andrew Shinnie (Birmingham City, end of loan), Fraser Fyvie, Grant Holt, Jamie Insall

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Marciano, Gray, McGregor, Ambrose, Stevenson, McGeouch, McGinn, Bartley, Fyvie, Boyle, Cummings

Back in the olden days, the team promoted to the top flight would be considered a pretty reasonable candidate to go straight back down.  No more, it seems.  We had Hearts, then we had Rangers, and now we have Hibs.

It's now three years since the Terry Butcher omnishambles which sent the Hibees down, though if you'd offered their fans a scenario where in exchange for spending that long going to Dumbarton and Dumfries twice a year they would win the Scottish Cup at last, they'd all have bitten your arm back.

But now Hibernian are back in the Premiership, where a club of their size undoubtedly should be.  Whether they are as strong as their two Championship-winning predecessors is another matter, though don't tell Neil Lennon that, as he'll undoubtedly snarl in your face, point and scream a lot and give the impression that only an invisible choke lead is preventing him from nutting you.  It's a good tactic that prevented the media from mocking his springtime claim that Hibs were the second best team in the country as much as they should have done.

Admittedly, this squad should make the top six with a bit to spare, even though star striker Jason Cummings has left for Nottingham Forest.  Replacing him is key to their aspirations; Simon Murray has started well since arriving from Dundee United, but he's yet to prove himself a consistent goalscorer at this level.  But Lennon needs him or Lithuanian international Deivydas Matulevicius to fire.

Matulevicius is one of two Lithuanians brought in - how times change in Edinburgh - with Vykintas Slivka the other.  Slivka joins from Juventus which sounds impressive until you discover he couldn't get a game on loan for a Serie B side last season.  But he will surely slot into central midfield alongside John McGinn, who has been the club's most consistent performer in the last couple of seasons.

Safer signings are Danny Swanson, from St. Johnstone, and Steven Whittaker, who is well past his best but should still be easily good enough for this league.  And tying up goalie Ofir Marciano and defender Efe Ambrose permanently were excellent moves; Marciano has made us all forget about the tradition of the Hibs goalkeeper being a walking catastophe, while Ambrose may be too accident-prone for a club like Celtic but stands out for good reasons in a team like this.

The big problem for Hibs in the last few years has been a tendency to play up to better opponents, and down to weaker ones, which is why they could knock Hearts out of the cup one week and then draw to Dumbarton a few days later.  Lennon has himself bemoaned that many a time.  Hopefully the increased quality of the opposition might take care of that one.

So just how good can they be?  Well, Hearts and Rangers both finished third in their first seasons back in the Premiership, but emulating that would be a tough ask.  With Hearts appearing vulnerable finishing ahead of them has got to be the starting target.  Given their budget, anything less than fifth would probably be an underachievement.

But this should end up being Hibernian's first top six finish in seven years.  Regardless, I'm sure Neil Lennon will be epitomy of politeness all the way through...

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Ross Laidlaw, Ofir Marciano
Defenders: Efe Ambrose, Callum Crane, Liam Fontaine, David Gray, Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor, Ryan Porteous, Lewis Stevenson, Steven Whittaker
Midfielders: Marvin Bartley, Scott Martin, Dylan McGeouch, John McGinn, Fraser Murray, Innes Murray, Vykantas Slivka, Danny Swanson
Forwards: Martin Boyle, Brian Graham, Deivydas Matulevicius, Simon Murray, Oli Shaw


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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