It has to be said from the outset that writing about the performance of Hibs players this year was far easier and far more enjoyable than last year’s effort.
What’s more remarkable that only seven of those who featured in last May’s edition (written before the ignominy of the playoffs defeat and therefore, far too lenient) appear in this iteration. A year is a long time in football and that’s certainly true at Easter Road.
Mark Oxley – 7
A sign of how much Hibs improved defensively this season is the fact that our biggest defeat was by a margin of two goals (to Rangers, twice). How much of that was down to goalkeeping improvements is hard to say. Mark Oxley, a season long loan signing from Hull City was certainly more relaxed than the Hulk-like Ben Williams. However, Oxley did not impose himself on the penalty box as much as his frame suggests he could do. Ultimately, Hibs were picked apart in some games and dropped points because they couldn’t deal with crosses and Oxley was part of that defence. The obvious high point was his Easter Road debut where he managed to score the winning goal in a victory over Livingston. Looks unlikely to stay on at the club but has been one of better keepers over the past decade.
Kleton Perntreou – 6
The young Albanian played just 135 minutes for Hibs this season coming off the bench after Oxley suffered a back injury against Cowdenbeath. He conceded one in dreadful conditions and then kept a clean sheet in the subsequent match at home to Queen of the South. At the end of the season Perntreou was released by the club.
Liam Fontaine – 9
The classiest centre half I’ve seen at Hibs for a number of years, Fontaine should be playing at a much higher level than the Championship. Effortless on the ball, is happy to bring the play out of defence and is a good set play option. Those who have listened to the podcast throughout the season will have heard Tony Anderson & I rave about him and because he makes it look so easy. We’ve both said we want to see more from him. He was rarely caught in possession and with Paul Hanlon cemented a fantastic centre half partnership that worked well as a two or three. A player all Hibs fans want to see at the club next season.
Jordan Forster – 6
If I was making judgements on players based on their social media game, Forster would be an undisputed -2. He’s basically your Mum’s divorced cousin online. Happily, that’s not what we’re assessing. Forster had an injury plagued season, making just 18 starts for Hibs this time around. Deployed at both right back and centre half, Forster still carries a huge amount of potential. Whether that potential can translate itself into talent remains to be seen and hopefully a year free of injury will help.
David Gray – 8
David Gray was in the fortunate position of taking Alan Maybury’s berth in the Hibs first team, so by virtue of having functioning legs and the ability to make a pass he was already reaching a new threshold.
A solid right back, who until this year hadn’t scored a professional goal was given opportunity to bomb down the right, giving Hibs a potent threat. His seriousness and professionalism appears to be the embodiment of what Alan Stubbs is trying to achieve with the club and that’s marked by the recent news that he’s going to be club captain next season.
The only time Gray has looked vulnerable was the 2-0 defeat to Rangers, where he was up against a rejuvenated Lee Wallace. The one concern is how injury prone he is – making only 23 league appearances after a groin operation kept him out the line-up.
Paul Hanlon – 8
Last season I argued that if Paul Hanlon had remained injury-free then Hibs would have avoided the play-offs. On the evidence of this season, I stand by that. Hanlon, albeit playing against weaker opponents, has rarely looked out-of-depth.
2014-15 Paul Hanlon was also significantly more comfortable on the ball and less panicked. One can only imagine this is the influence of Stubbs on the 25 year old, who hasn’t been bullied by any strikers in the same way he was under previous managers. As mentioned above, the partnership with Liam Fontaine has been crucial to his development too.
Lewis Stevenson – 7
I really like Lewis Stevenson. He seems to be a consummate professional and downright nice guy. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe he’s too ‘nice’. This year has certainly been one of Stevenson’s best in a Hibs jersey, but perhaps that’s not saying much. Previously, his flexibility had been his curse, whereas this campaign has seen him nail down the left back position.
Like another ‘nice’ young Hibs lad, David Wotherspoon, I feel that Stevenson is the average of the team. If Hibs are playing well, he’ll play well. If Hibs are playing rotten, then chances are he’ll be playing rotten too. If he wants to move to the ‘next level’ then he really needs to work on his crossing to give himself ‘added value’ to the team.
Keith Watson – 6
There were glimpses of a really good player in Keith Watson when he first signed on loan from Dundee United, but then on occasions (such as the 2-0 defeat to Rangers) where it became clear as to why he’d been released by the Arabs. If he wasn’t shining in the Championship in a flourishing team then I’m not sure he’s a long-term option for the Hibees.
Scott Allan – 9
Perhaps the most crucial signing made by Alan Stubbs last summer. It was a statement of intent, an affirmation to the way that Hibs were going to play under Stubbs and one that Hibs fans have rejoiced over ever since. Allan is a tremendous talent and genuinely the sort of player that can make the price of admission worth it. Yes, he may look for that reverse pass once too often and sometimes his set pieces can be limp, but it’s totally worth these shortcomings for what he does when he picks up the ball in the middle of the park. He makes worthy opponents look like Sunday league cloggers and can get fans on their feet. Further admiration has to be given to Glasgow lad for the fact that he plays in spite of his diagnosed Type 1 diabetes.
Allan has a year remaining on his contract and I’d rather he spent the last season trying to win us promotion and leave for a free than leave Easter Road for cash this summer. What’s more remarkable is that this is really his first full season of football, everyone at Easter Road waits with baited breath for next term.
Martin Boyle – 8
The ‘Squirrel’ is an odd one. He doesn’t appear to carry many natural footballing attributes, yet has been absolute dynamite for Hibs since his arrival on loan. Whether it’s scoring crucial goals, or putting Adam Eckersley’s in his back pocket during the final derby of the season, there’s something about Boyle (and the rest of the Hibs squad) that has been missing from Easter Road for a number of years: he’s likeable. He plays with a smile and an intensity that is worthy of admiration.
Liam Craig – 7
The now departed captain didn’t have a bad season, nor did he have a great one. Often kept out the team by more talented youngsters, it’s hard to argue that Craig’s two year spell at Hibs hasn’t been a success. He’s undoubtedly had his moments (the 4th goal against Rangers felt cathartic for sure) but Craig at Hibs felt like a square peg in a round hole. I’ve no doubt that he’ll come back to haunt us in the future and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a runaway success at his next club.
Fraser Fyvie – 7
A surprise six month deal for the former Aberdeen youngster was welcome and he quickly exercised any doubts with an exquisite pass for Lewis Stevenson’s goal at Ibrox in February.
It felt after his signing that Hibs were able to find another gear in which Stubbs’ diamond formation played to Fyvie’s strengths. Dynamic, always playing with his head up, Fyvie doesn’t come across as gregarious, but I’m not bothered by that and his decision to sign up for us for another two years is a very welcome move.
Danny Handling – 6
God loves a trier. And Danny Handling is that trier. Handling’s enthusiasm is almost infectious but I’m still not sure what Danny Handling is for. Clearly someone at Easter Road does, because he was awarded a four year contract at the start of the season, but I’m not sure where the attacking midfielder fits into Alan Stubbs’ plans.
Dylan McGeouch – 8
Like Lewis Stevenson, McGeouch’s versatility has almost become his curse. At least this season on loan has allowed him to cement himself as a central midfielder par excellence. Agile, neat and industrious, McGeouch is another player who should be playing at a level much higher than the Championship.
He’s been unfortunate with injuries that kept him out at stages during the season. What might have the first playoff game been like with McGeouch playing instead of Craig? At times he appears to glide around the field and his neatness of play is massively under-rated, as his tackling.
Scott Robertson – 7
Robertson remains an enigma. A good player that occasionally goes AWOL or a poor player with fleeting great moments? Two and a half years into Robertson’s Hibs career and I’m not further forward in reaching a conclusion. Which perhaps tells its own story. Often too rash with his tackling, perhaps this summer would be an appropriate juncture for Robertson to leave the club.
Sam Stanton – 6
With more appearances from the subs bench than starts probably tells its own story about the highly rated Stanton. So far, Stanton hasn’t quite found a way into Stubbs’ starting XI despite showing flashes of brilliance. Hopefully we’ll see more of him next season.
Jason Cummings – 8
It’s been quite a season for Cummings. It’s remarkable too to think that it was his missed penalty that sent Hibs down. The club have shielding the youngster from the spotlight as best they could (although it’s fair to say that Cummings knows how to generate headlines on and off the park).
Cummings is still learning the game and on some occasions, games can pass him by (the first leg at Ibrox being a prime example). He’ll need to learn how to play himself into games that he might not necessarily be exacting much influence in. But for next season’s tilt at the title, he’s exactly who you want leading the forward line.
Franck Dja Djedje – 6
Three goals in six starts isn’t a bad return for Frenchman, who found himself largely coming into games from the sidelines. More physical than Cummings and Malonga, but certainly less technical, it’s hard to give an overall assessment of Dja Djedje given how unfit he looked as he arrived. The arrival of James Keatings indicated that one of our current strikers may be on his out, and so it proved with Big Franck exiting.
Farid El Alagui – 6
This season has been one of great ‘ifs’ for Hibs. What if we’d just binned Terry Butcher straight away? What if Liam Craig hadn’t taken the worst penalty in an Edinburgh derby history? What if Faird El Alagui hadn’t ruptured his Achilles at the Rec just days before the transfer window closed? Sadly, the last one curtailed what looked like a promising start to Farid’s Hibs career.
Strong in the air and adept at putting the ball in that big goal net thing, El Alagui was essentially the anti-James Collins and his enthusiasm for football won over the Easter Road faithful pretty quickly. On his return, he further endeared himself by scoring the second in a glorious 2-0 victory over Hearts with an adept dink finish. There’s genuinely excitement amongst Hibs fans about getting a full season of Farid next year.
Dominique Malonga – 7
I’ve often said on the podcast that the majority of football fans are idiots. And I always know if I’m got an idiot sitting near me at Hibs games when I hear someone say “oh he’s so shite” when talking about Dominique Malonga.
Big Dommy M suffers from looking lackadaisical and languid, which belies a lot of hard work. Yes, he’s awkward looking and yes he sometimes doesn’t do the logical thing (the final Edinburgh derby springs to mind), but Malonga was responsible for scoring some vital goals between October and January when the team wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
Called away to represent Congo at the Africa Cup of Nations, his form stuttered afterwards, where he wasn’t quite able to influence games in the same way. Has real potential to become a cult hero at Easter Road.
So farewell to Callum Booth, who at points early in the season looked like Auld Reekie’s Jordi Alba. If he can bulk up, he might have a promising Premiership career at Partick Thistle. Alex Harris and Paul Heffernan both ended up at Dundee, where the former looked like he was being ‘rebuilt’ after struggling with injuries; the latter also struggled with injuries and never looked at home at Easter Road. Matthew Kennedy returned to Everton after a half-season in Edinburgh. He epitomised Hibs at the start of the season, lots of invention going forward but little end product. I really hope he can learn to produce, because he could become an exceptional talent. Michael Nelson started the season before being shifted to Cambridge United. Nelson was the sort of player who summed up Butcher’s Hibs – lumbering, well-meaning but ultimately clueless. Jake Sinclair, we hardly knew you. Owain Tudur Jones, whose sole Hibernian appearance was in the Petrofac Training Cup continued our propensity for signing players in good form and them turning to shit. Unfortunately, OTJ retired after just five appearances at Falkirk.
Alan Combe, goalkeeping coach played not one minute. Nor did Tomas Cerny, who signed as a back-up in January before departing this summer for a game in the sticks at Firhill. Youngsters Lewis Allan, Calum Crane, Aaron Dunsmore, Connor Duthie and Scott Martin are all relatively well-rated but Hibs had few matches this season where it was opportune to blood them in games. Fingers crossed we emulate Hearts’ success this season and wrap the title next March so the young Hibees get the opportunity to shine.
WRITTEN BY DUNCAN MCKAY
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