PREDICTED LEAGUE POSITION: Fourth
LAST SEASON: 5th, 54pts
NOTABLE INS: Christian Doidge (Forest Green Rovers, £250k), Scott Allan (Celtic), Steven Bradley (Queen's Park), Adam Jackson (Barnsley), Tom James (Yeovil Town), Joe Newell (Rotherham United), Josh Vela (Bolton Wanderers), Chris Maxwell (Preston North End, loan)
NOTABLE OUTS: Lewis Allan (Raith Rovers), Marvin Bartley (Livingston), Ross Laidlaw (Ross County), Mark Milligan (Southend United), Thomas Agyepong (Manchester City, end of loan), Adam Bogdan (Liverpool, end of loan), Ryan Gauld (Sporting Lisbon, end of loan), Darnell Johnson (Leicester City, end of loan), Marc McNulty (Reading, end of loan), Stephane Omeonga (Genoa, end of loan), Gael Bigirimana, Andrew Blake, Miquel Nelom, Jonathan Spector
LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Marciano,
Neil Lennon might have guided Hibs to fourth place just over a year ago, but by the time he left at the end of January it had all gone pear-shaped. The circumstances of his departure were bizarre to say the least but his exit was justified in terms of results; at that point Hibs were only eighth.
Under Paul Heckingbottom they then went unbeaten in the league until after the split, where they lost the last three games of the campaign. Only Celtic and Rangers managed more points in that fifteen match period. So far, so very good for the Englishman. He showed he could get the best out of the squad he inherited.
Now he needs to show that he can recruit.There have been a lot of departures this summer and while the list was mainly made up of depth pieces it also included impressive loanees Stephane Omeonga and Marc McNulty. Both have joined new clubs.
And so Heckingbottom has got biz-zay. McNulty;s replacement up front, Welshman Christian Doidge, commanded a £250,000 fee. At this level, that's a decent amount of money and therefore expectations of Doidge, whose goalscoring record at English League Two level was good and who would have signed permanently for Bolton in January had the Championship side not hit financial trouble, should be high.
Doidge joins Flo Kamberi and Oli Shaw as options up front. The lack of numbers there hints that the manager may look to play one up front more often than not. Kamberi spent a lot of time out on the flank in the second half of last season but whilst he was more than willing it isn't his best position and there are surely better options to start there. His goal return last season was disappointing and too often it seems like lack of confidence is holding back the Swiss forward's considerable talent. Shaw is a great prospect and has been attracting interest from down south, but it seems like he is third in the queue here.
One reason Kamberi can go back to the centre (or the bench) is the return from injury of Martin Boyle. The flying winger shone for a year and a half before hurting his knee with Australia in January. With Daryl Horgan impressing under Heckingbottom and the arrival of another wideman in Joe Newell there should be no difficulty in creating chances. And that's before acknowledging the return of prodigal son Scott Allan for a third spell at the Easter Road. He and Stevie Mallan should provide an excellent goal threat from midfield.
The obvious gap in the early League Cup games was the lack of a natural holding midfielder. Mark Milligan did well last year but was moved on, presumably because he will be 34 next month. Fan favourite Marvin Bartley was well past his best too. Against Stirling and Alloa teenager Josh Campbell was deployed in front of the back four but Josh Vela, brought in from Bolton Wanderers, will surely fill this role going forward. Vela was very highly thought of in Lancashire and could be a really good signing.
He can also play right-back effectively as well, though there is not a shortage of options in defence. Left-back Tom James and centre-back Adam Jackson have been added to the mix, though they'll do well to shift stalwarts Lewis Stevenson and Paul Hanlon, as well as outstanding youngster Ryan Porteous (just back from a long-term injury as well) from the starting lineup. Veterans Darren McGregor, David Gray and Steven Whittaker are all here too. Whittaker looked done last year but the 35 year old impressed the management team in preseason and has forced his way back into the reckoning.
Whoever starts at the back will protect Israeli Ofir Marciano, who blossomed in the first half of 2019 and has become one of the league's outstanding shotstoppers. That didn't stop Heckingbottom signing experienced goalie Chris Maxwell to compete with him, but Marciano should be first choice going forward.
All in all, it's hard not to be positive about the Hibees' upcoming campaign. They look well set in most positions as long as the injury bug doesn't bite so hard. If anything, the biggest concern right now is that a panicking English Championship club steals Heckingbottom early in the season. Certainly another top six finish is the absolute least that should be expected; if Doidge, Kamberi or A.N. Other hits a hot streak then they will be dangerous opponents for anyone anywhere. They look certain to be top sixers, and might even fancy their chances of pushing for third.
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.