After the weekend’s Premiership action, it looks like Hamilton have been dragged back into the…
Neil Lennon has a busy summer ahead of him. His Hibs side are in a good position to qualify for European football, which means an early pre-season for the Northern Irishman. Hibernian will need to act fast in the transfer window and get their business done as early as possible if the squad is to be adequately prepared for Europa League qualifiers in July. Dylan McGeouch looks set to leave, Celtic are reportedly sniffing around John McGinn while loan players like Scott Allan, Brandon Barker and Florian Kamberi will return to their parent clubs, unless Lennon can convince them to stay.
There will likely be a few new faces at Easter Road at the beginning of next season and the latest to be linked with a move to Leith is Accies’ Ali Crawford, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Neil Lennon is said to be interested in the midfielder, who has struggled with injuries this campaign.
The move would be a good fit for both parties. Crawford has outgrown Hamilton; if anything, he’s probably stayed at New Douglas Park for longer than he should have. He’s ready to step up to a higher level and Hibs should theoretically provide that for him. The midfielder has faced some criticism this season when he has played but the stats show that, for the most part, he’s improving.
The above graph shows how Crawford has progressed over the last three seasons. In 2015/16, the 26-year-old was hitting more shots, playing fewer passes and doing both less successfully than he is this season. He attempts more dribbles this year than in previous campaigns – with a greater rate of success – and provides more assists.
The only aspect of Crawford’s game that has suffered over the last couple of years is his goal return. Last season, he was incredibly influential for Accies and provided 0.24 goals per 90. This year, that figure has dropped to 0.07. The reason for this is simple – Crawford is now playing a different role in his side. In 2015/16 and 2016/17, Crawford was shooting more and passing less; today, his role is more in keeping with a traditional playmaker.
So we can see Crawford is improving, but where would he fit into Lennon’s side? We can only presume that Crawford would be recruited to replace McGeouch, but it won’t be quite as straightforward as that.
This chart compares Crawford’s league stats this season with Lennon’s current preferred midfield of McGinn, Allan and McGeouch. If we assume that McGeouch is to leave, then Lennon would ideally like a similar player to slot into his role. As we can see, Crawford doesn’t attempt nearly as many passes as McGeouch does over the course of a game, but his accuracy isn’t too far behind. It’s important to bear in mind that Crawford currently plays for an Accies team with a fairly defensive, reactive strategy – perhaps in a dynamic Hibs team that enjoy more of the ball, this would not be the case.
Going forward, Crawford could offer Lennon an even better option than the ones currently at his disposal. The Accies playmaker averages more shots per 90 than most of Hibs’ current midfield and only Allan and Danny Swanson average more key passes (a pass that leads to a shot) per game. Whether it’s taking shots or setting them up, Crawford excels.
What this all demonstrates is that Crawford would be a fantastic signing for Hibs. Comfortable in central midfield and in a number ten position, Crawford’s adaptability would serve him well in Lennon’s fluid side. Crawford has consistently been one of the Premiership’s most industrious midfielders which would fit perfectly within Hibs’ high-tempo style of play. There are question marks over many players coming in and out of Easter Road this summer – Crawford shouldn’t be one of them. Lennon should make signing Crawford a priority.