What an exciting and promising start it has been for Jack Ross’ Hibernian side, having got off to a flying start with five wins from eight Premiership matches. The football that has been on show has been something for the Hibs fans to cheer about. Ross has got them playing an exciting and attacking brand of football and, with a few summer signings added, it is looking like the Hibees are the early season front-runners for continental qualification this season.
Hibs have never shied away from scoring goals, that has not been an issue for a few seasons. Their vulnerabilities have been at the other end of the park, and this is what has let them down in in previous Premiership campaigns. However, it looks like Jack Ross has certainly worked on that coming into this season and, with a more structured and organised defence, they just conceded their first goals from open play against Rangers. In the seven matches previous they had only succumbed to two penalties and a free-kick.
A surprise standout this season so far has been young left back Josh Doig. The young full back spent a brief spell on loan at Queens Park last season. Although only playing seven times for the Spiders he quickly became a fan favourite and a standout performer. Manager Ray McKinnon was blown away by the energetic defender using adjectives like “unbelievable” and “outstanding” to describe him. He even once compared him to Andy Robertson when he was at the club. Jack Ross might be thankful that he sent him to McKinnon’s side last campaign as it seems to be the experienced boss who noticed his potential at full back. It really does show the benefit of the loan system and how dropping down the leagues and playing with first team players can really develop young players and get them first team ready.
On his return to the Hibees, the youngster was given a chance in pre-season and has clearly given a good account of himself, starting in all eight Premiership matches so far. As well as showing real potential and promise when bombing forward, he has also shown strong defensive attributes. Although previously known as a centre back, Doig has comfortably adapted to both full back and wing back positions which has been vital in allowing Ross to switch between his 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 formations.
The full back role is an incredibly demanding role in the modern game. It is much more than just defending these days and Josh Doig is currently showing he has all the attributes needed for the modern-day full back. His athleticism is a vital part of his game, alongside his pace, he travels up and down the pitch endlessly. His height and aggression also contribute to his defensive abilities. It’s certainly a position Hibs would have been looking to strengthen as veteran Lewis Stevenson comes to the tail end of his career and is perhaps not as mobile and energetic as he once was. Fortunately for green side of Edinburgh the youngster has flourished in the roles asked of him.
Scottish Cup and League Cup winner Lewis Stevenson is one of Hibs’ most decorated players and is not far away from making his 500th appearance for the Hibees. With Doig cementing his place in the starting eleven, it looks like it could take a little longer than expected for him to get there. Throughout his career, Stevenson has proven that he is a top professional and is a well-liked player, especially known for his hard work and love for the club. For Doig coming through, he is a great role model to learn from and the youngster has previously hailed the club stalwart for the support he has shown.
When you think of Hibs and their youth system you can’t help but think about the likes of Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson. That was an incredible time for the Hibees and really did underline the talent that they were producing. Paul Hanlon and the previously mentioned Stevenson are still in the first team having been products of the system but there seemed to be a bit of a halt to the talent coming through in recent years. This then led to worrying times for the Edinburgh side as any youth players coming through wouldn’t make much of a dent on the first team and be moved on. This was not the Hibs we once knew.
Why hasn’t it happened for Hibs in recent times? In recent campaigns they have brought in players with a bit more experience. Neil Lennon’s approach seemed to be bringing in players that he felt were needed to get the club back into the Premiership, while Paul Heckingbottom recruited a number of players from England. Did they feel more confident having players that at already played at a high level or that they knew from previous clubs? Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for young players to be given a chance and Hibs needed to get themselves back into the Premiership and find their feet as a top tier club again.
Fast forward to now and although it’s been a year to forget, Hibs are finally starting to produce some raw talent again. Ryan Porteous has been a fan favourite at Easter Road for a couple of seasons now and Jamie Gullan gained some first team experience towards the end of last seasons campaign, grabbing a goal in their Scottish Cup tie at home to Inverness. With times looking a lot brighter for the Hibees and their youth academy, Josh Doig is really looking like the real deal and possibly the next best thing to come out of Hibs.
Scotland have certainly produced some fine left backs in recent times, Andy Robertson has won both the Premier League and Champions League, Kieran Tierney has tasted FA Cup and Community Shield success and Barry Douglas has helped Leeds back into the Premiership after 16 years. Those three are just a small number of potential competitors I’m sure Doig will be looking up to. On the other side of the capital, Aaron Hickey earned a big move away after an impressive season last year at rivals Hearts. Hickey and Doig are proving themselves to be next in line as the talent seems to keep on coming from that position. If only national football was played with solely left backs.
Hibs face Celtic on Sunday in what looks like a cracking encounter should both teams play the way they have started this campaign. This will be another big test for the capital club, and for Josh Doig as he will no doubt be looking to continue his rich form, proving he has what it takes against both sides of the Old Firm.