What has Monty learned from first Hibs battle?

Published on: 17 September 2023

Montgomery 'has to address Hibs defending'

Nick Montgomery still managed to describe his first game as Hibernian head coach as "thoroughly enjoyable" - despite having to endure his new charges squandering a two-goal lead.

Understandably, he would have lapped up the eye-catching, flying start his side made down in Ayrshire.

However, it was the very manner in which they began the game that will have made Killie's comeback to earn a 2-2 draw all the more vexing.

Montgomery admitted the equaliser will "annoy" him for a wee while yet as Hibs' recent defensive frailties were evident once more.

The 41-year-old was, though, quick to assert that there are plenty positives to be taken from his first foray in the Scottish Premiership.

So what did the former Scotland Under-21 midfielder learn about his about his team at Rugby Park?

    Montgomery denied debut Hibs win by Killie comeback Keep up to date with Hibs news and analysis, in one place

'Impressive' attacking players shine

Onlookers would struggle to not be impressed by the blistering start Hibs made on a sun-kissed Saturday afternoon.

Martin Boyle - who clearly relished the attacking freedom Montgomery allowed he and Elie Youan down the flanks - should have tucked the ball past goalkeeper Will Dennis after just 11 seconds.

The Australia winger is, though, just one of the gems the Hibs boss will no doubt be relying on in the coming weeks. He, along with Youan and midfielder Joe Newell - who Montgomery made captain for the game after dropping centre-back Paul Hanlon - would be an asset to any manager.

At times in that mighty admirable opening half hour, a front four spearheaded by goalscorer Dylan Vente and Christian Doidge - supported by the aforementioned Boyle and Youan - terrorised a spooked Kilmarnock defence.

If the early signs are anything to go by, fans have every right to be excited by the prospect of this new-look, free-flowing Hibs attack. As Newell himself told BBC Scotland post-match, there were "some really good aspects which would have impressed people".

Including, importantly, the new boss, who reiterated post-match what he has said since his arrival: he has "a great squad who are really strong".

Defence frailties don't disappear overnight

Where Hibs have not been strong for a while, however, is in defence. The reason Lee Johnson lost his job and was replaced with Montgomery is not because his side failed to find their way to goal.

Under the man who quickly inherited the Fleetwood Town job from Scott Brown, Hibs shipped 20 goals in nine games at the beginning of the season.

Goalkeeper David Marshall cut an exasperated figure after losing two goals to Kilmarnock

Kyle Vassell's goal that brought Kilmarnock back into the game on Saturday was classic striker play. Anticipating the rebound from goalkeeper David Marshall's parry, he displayed the predatory instinct to lap up such a chance when it presents itself.

Joe Wright's equaliser, however, from a corner, is less forgivable. The returning centre-half was able to glide away with ease from opposite number Will Fish to powerfully head home an unlikely leveller.

The early work done in Montgomery's first five days up one end of the park was evident. However, the long-lingering issues at the other are not going to be solved quickly.

It is a defence lacking in confidence - and one heavily reliant on their midfield. Newell and Jimmy Jeggo put in the tackles and interceptions, Rocky Bushiri and Fish never made a single one of the latter.

Patience will be key for Montgomery, who remained cool, calm and collected on the sidelines throughout the topsy-turvy affair.

The former Central Coast Mariners boss will have had plenty to ponder on the road back home to Edinburgh but, perhaps more than anything, it will be a realisation that, despite his high aspirations for this group of players, their road to resurgence will not be a quick fix.

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Source: bbc.com