The transfer merry-go-round is well and truly underway at Easter Road. Dylan McGeouch has followed…
It’s all been a bit mad down at Easter Road so far. Hibernian only have four games under their belts, yet Neil Lennon’s side have wasted no time acclimatising to European football. Asteras Tripolis and NSI Ruvanik have both been eliminated by the Edinburgh club, who have scored 16 goals and conceded eight during a frantic first four games of the season. Hibs now have a tie against Molde to look forward to, where they’ll be hoping to prolong their unbeaten run.
The European campaign has so far proved to be a success and Lennon will be doing all that he can to ensure that his team begin the Premiership season in similarly impressive fashion. Hibs host Motherwell on the opening day of the season and face tricky away fixtures against Aberdeen and Kilmarnock in their first five matches, underlining the need for Hibs to hit the ground running this season. But so far they’ve done just that.
As industrious and frenetic as Hibernian have been on the pitch, off of it Lennon’s had plenty of work to do as several key players moved on from Easter Road and needed to be replaced as soon as possible. So far, the club can feel pretty pleased about their transfer activity this summer but with the best part of a month until the window closes, there’s still plenty of time for a few more players to sign up for the campaign. We decided to take a look at their summer so far to see how prepared they are for the 2018/19 Premiership.
Hibs stormed the Premiership upon their return to the top flight, forcing just about everyone in the division to shuffle down a position or two in the final standings as they ultimately finished in fourth place. The Hibees remained in contention for second place for most of the campaign before pulling up a little short as we entered the split. In the end, Hibs had to settle for fourth spot but could take heart from their first season back in Scottish football’s top flight.
Hibs generally performed well last season and gave a good account of themselves, but noticeably struggled against a few select teams. Lennon’s side proved to be a match against the likes of Celtic and Rangers throughout the season but regularly came up short in fixtures against Aberdeen and Hearts – both teams that employ cagey, defensive strategies.
In all competitions, Hibs faced Hearts and Aberdeen on nine occasions, winning just two and losing five. If Hibs have realistic ambitions of overtaking the Dons in the league then this sorry record must improve. Lennon must shoulder a fair amount of the blame here – his breathless, end-to-end tactical setup often proves to be devastatingly effective, but it isn’t necessarily suitable for every encounter. And against Hearts and Aberdeen, time and again it cost Hibernian.
If Lennon’s team had performed a little better in these fixtures, then they could have easily finished second. An extra win against each opponent over the course of the season would have probably been enough. Hibs were knocked out of the Scottish Cup by their bitter rivals too – until Lennon finds a new way of playing against these opponents, Hibs will struggle to keep pace with Aberdeen as they challenge Rangers for second place.
There haven’t been too many players exiting Easter Road this summer but many that have moved on have left big holes in Lennon’ side. Dylan McGeouch’s absence is probably Hibs’ biggest loss this summer so far and it’s already impacted on the midfield, which all of a sudden looks unbalanced and has surely contributed to the high-scoring nature of Hibernian’s matches of late. Brandon Barker – one of the best dribblers in the Premiership last season – has returned to Manchester City and is another who’s yet to be replaced by a similar player.
Neil Lennon will be desperate to re-sign Scott Allan from Celtic on a permanent deal after an impressive loan spell last season but any deal could be dependent on John McGinn moving in the opposite direction. Similarly, whispers about a potential move for Jamie Maclaren – who had one of the highest scoring rates in the Premiership last season – refuse to go away.
Celtic are sniffing around McGinn but with Hibs digging their heels in, the protracted transfer is anything but certain to be completed. The Scotland international would be a huge loss to the Hibees and it’s difficult to envisage his replacement, whoever it may be, turning in a similar level of performance on a regular basis.
Not strictly speaking a new signing, but bringing Florian Kamberi back to Easter Road looks like a masterstroke. The Swiss striker finished as Hibs’ top scorer in the league last season and has already scored a hat-trick and a last-gasp winner in Europe this year. There’s been a lot of expectation placed on the 23-year-old’s shoulders but the striker looks ready to rise to the occasion. Reportedly, Hibs managed to bring in Kamberi for less than the fee they received for Simon Murray – if this is the case, then this is a phenomenal piece of business from the club.
Stevie Mallan has hit the ground running in a similar fashion and looks like he’ll be an excellent signing for Hibs going forward. In his first two games for the club against NSI Ruvanik, Mallan provided four goals and set up another, sliding seamlessly into Lennon’s team. Mallan and McGinn look like a formidable partnership in midfield but the Hibs boss could probably use another new signing to play a holding role behind them. As with most of Hibs’ transfer policy at the moment, much seems to hinge on whether or not Celtic meet their valuation over McGinn.
Neil Lennon will be focused primarily on keeping pace with Aberdeen this season, whilst hopefully widening the gap between themselves and their rivals Hearts. Qualifying for Europe is a realistic objective but top six is a must: anything less would be a backwards step by Lennon’s own standards. The Europa League qualifying rounds have so far been a fun adventure for the fans and while there is no serious expectation to overcome Molde in the next round, Hibs will fancy their chances.
Retaining John McGinn looks like it could be a decisive factor in Hibs’ overall fortunes this season while bringing Maclaren back to Edinburgh looks like it would be an excellent piece of business. Hibs’ transfer activity is far from over but if they continue to recruit well, and strengthen where required, then there’s no reason to think Hibs can’t overtake Aberdeen this year. Lennon will be aiming to go deep in both domestic cup competitions while simultaneously pushing for European qualification again. Top six is the goal, but third isn’t an unrealistic target.