Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2018/19 Premiership preview - Hibernian

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LAST SEASON: Fourth, 67pts

NOTABLE INS: Stevie Mallan (Barnsley, £200k), Flo Kamberi (Grasshopper Zurich, loan made permanent), Adam Bogdan (Liverpool, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Simon Murray (Bidvest Wits, £150k), Cammy Bell (Partick Thistle), Callum Crane (Livingston), Dylan McGeouch (Sunderland), Scott Allan (Celtic, end of loan), Brandon Barker (Manchester City, end of loan), Jamie Maclaren (SV Darmstadt 98, end of loan), Faycal Rherras (Mechelen, end of loan)

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Marciano, Ambrose, Hanlon, McGregor, Stevenson, Boyle, McGeouch, McGinn, Allan, Maclaren, Kamberi

You know, Hibs were pretty good last season. In fact, after the winter break they were really good. As in 'more points than Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen in that period' good. They lost just two league games in the first half of 2018, a cagey one at Celtic Park and an inevitable one at Tynecastle where they have won just once in sixteen attempts.

That's fairly impressive for a side returning to the top flight after a three year absence. In the end fourth place was the least they deserved.

The question now for Neil Lennon and is team is whether they can do even better.

Of course, the success has not gone unnoticed and inevitably predators have come sniffing around their best players - namely Dylan McGeouch, the outstanding passing metronome who has joined Sunderland, and the all-action John McGinn who at this point seems destined to move to Celtic, with the only uncertainty being the timing.

Losing two players of such quality would be a real blow, though any fee for McGinn would give Lennon leeway to sign replacements - including Scott Allan as part of the deal for McGinn, and maybe Ozzie striker Jamie Maclaren, who did so well up front on loan late last season. And he has already brought Stevie Mallan north from Barnsley to provide some creativity; whilst a different style of player to McGeouch, Mallan may well take over his place in the team.

If Maclaren's partnership with Flo Kamberi - signed permanently this summer for a snip at a supposed £100,000, less than the fee received for Simom Murray - can be renewed then the Hibees will have firepower up front that most of their opponents could only dream of. Until that happens, or another forward is signed, only Oli Shaw or Martin Boyle are options to partner Kamberi. Boyle is far more effective on the right flank, where he was one of the most improved players in the country last year.

The other end of the park might need strengthening too, with Darren McGregor showing his age and Steven Whittaker fading fast. The big hope for this season is that young Ryan Porteous steps up; just nineteen in March, he has impressed considerably when called upon and could be this season's answer to Aberdeen's Scott McKenna.

Porteous and Paul Hanlon would make a satisfactory centre-back pairing; Efe Ambrose tended to look better at right-back last season, if only because any brain farts were less likely to immediately result in concession of a goal. And of course Lewis Stevenson will probably still chug up and down the left at Easter Road long after the apocalypse has destroyed the rest of us.

There's renewed competition between the sticks too with the arrival of Adam Bogdan; the Hungarian's poor Europa League performances may have Lennon hankering for the return of Ofir Marciano from injury though.

So can Hibs push on? There's not likely to be too much between them, their local rivals, Aberdeen and Rangers. But with a few more clever signings, some good fortune on the injury front and a manager who doesn't let his emotions distract from the job in hand, this could be another enjoyable season down Leith way. Even if/when McGinn goes.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1997 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Adam Bogdan, Ross Laidlaw, Ofir Marciano
Defenders: Efe Ambrose, Andrew Blake, David Gray, Paul Hanlon, Sean Mackie, Darren McGregor, Ryan Porteous, Lewis Stevenson, Steven Whittaker
Midfielders: Marvin Bartley, Martin Boyle, Jamie Gullan, Stevie Mallan, Scott Martin, John McGinn, Fraser Murray, Innes Murray, Vykintas Slivka, Danny Swanson
Forwards: Lewis Allan, Flo Kamberi, 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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