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Hibernian entered this transfer window knowing they needed a striker and in Australian Jamie Maclaren, signed on loan until the end of the season, they have one. But how much do you know about Neil Lennon’s new frontman? And what will he bring to the Easter Road side?
The 24-year-old has endured a tough start to life in Germany having signed for Darmstadt 98 in the summer. Since then, Maclaren has played in just seven games for under three hours of time on the pitch. It’s fair to say he hasn’t left his mark on the Bundesliga.
Maclaren’s background is an interesting one. He signed with Blackburn Rovers in England as a 15-year-old before being released in 2013 after failing to break into the first team. In that time he curiously played for Scotland’s Under-19’s side before eventually switching his allegiance to Australia as an Under-20s international. From there he signed on with Perth Glory in the A-League for the next two seasons. It was there where he started to make an impression.
Towards the end of his second year with the Glory, he began to feature more and more, scoring 10 goals in just 25 appearances for the club. Perth had hoped to keep him despite the fallout from their salary cap breach, however a grievance resulted in Maclaren being released from his contract and moving to the Brisbane Roar as one of coach John Aloisi’s first big signings in July 2015.
This was where Maclaren really began to flourish, playing with A-League legend Thomas Broich. He scored 20 goals in his first season, getting things off to a great start as he bagged a brace in his first A-League match with the Roar. It didn’t take long for the fans to quickly embrace him. What stood out immediately was how quickly he gelled with fellow attacker Brandon Borello (now with Kaiserslautern), with duo’s pace giving opposition defences a real headache.
His potency in front of goal gave the Roar a consistent, attacking threat and they finished the season in third place, just minutes away from a grand final appearance. At the end of the season, he was named Young Player of the Year and finished second in the Golden Boot standings. That form resulted in a national team debut for Australia against England in a May 2016 friendly. Maclaren was considered one of the brightest young talents in Australian football.
His second season with the Roar threw up an interesting narrative. Maclaren remained potent in front of goal, tallying 20 goals once more, but found himself on the receiving end of some criticism for his inconsistency and wasteful finishing. Chances were never an issue and he provided key goals for the Roar, but the service he received was very different. The Roar played more crosses to his head rather than through balls for him to run on to. That made a difference.
A slight tweak in system also resulted in a lack of consistent support, leading to him being isolated against two central defenders much more often. After a season to study his playing style, Maclaren was on the receiving end of much tighter marking as opposition sides respected his pace. For him to develop as a striker there were two key things he needed to work on – his finishing and his ability to work in tight spaces. Those things still stand.
Looking back, fans quickly took to Maclaren, nicknaming him the Red Baron. He gave The Den plenty of moments to celebrate, including a hat-trick in a 5-0 home win over Melbourne Victory. In finals, he always found a way to step up. scoring a double in a 5-4 extra time loss in his first season, as well as a second half equaliser in an elimination final against Western Sydney in his second year. It was quite clear from early on that Maclaren would not stay in the A-League for long and would seek a return to Europe.
What will stand out very quickly for the eagle-eyed observers are the runs that Maclaren makes off the shoulder of defenders. It is important for him to get a clear line to run onto the ball. One on one with a defender in space, he possesses the ability to dribble past most. However, in terms of shooting, he has a much higher conversion rate with his right foot.
Hibs are getting a striker that is hungry for minutes and has an eye on a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup squad with the Socceroos. To do that he needs to show whoever the new national team manager is that he can work in a variety of situations, including when he is being marked very tightly. He will be motivated and if he receives the right kind of service from midfield he will quickly become a fan favourite with a few early goals.