Maloney’s Winter Wishlist – New Year, New Faces

With Hibernian being one of the most active clubs in Scotland during this January transfer window, Struan Garvie evaluates the club’s activity so far, profiling each of the new additions to Shaun Maloney’s squad.

Photo Credit – Serge Cornu

Winter transfer windows are often intriguing. Sometimes they can completely change a team’s fortunes for the better, while they can just as quickly derail a side’s season.

One of the busier teams in Scotland so far is Hibernian, who have so far brought in six new first-team players. Here is a brief overview of what these players could offer. 

Shaun Maloney has made a great start to his managerial career in the capital, securing victories over Aberdeen and Dundee United. Maloney inherited a good squad at Hibs but has wasted no time in strengthening it further. 

Dylan Tait (20 years old) and American international Chris Mueller (25 years old) both signed pre-contracts last summer and completed their moves to Hibs this month. Further to this, Maloney has added four more new faces to his side in the form of promising Norwegian striker Elias Hoff Melkersen (19), former Celtic midfielder Ewan Henderson (21), Arsenal defender Harry Clarke (20), and Norwich City defender Rocky Bushiri (22).  

All six of these arrivals are likely to improve the current squad and give Maloney a lot more flexibility when it comes to choosing a formation and system. For example, Harry Clarke can play on the right of a back four or a back five and can also provide cover in the centre-back positions. 

Maloney used a 3-4-1-2 in both of his games in charge of Hibs so far, a set-up similar to the Belgian national team. It is expected that this is the system Maloney will prioritise at Hibs with the odd tactical switch here and there. Adapting to this change of shape should not be too much of an issue for the squad, as they played a similar formation on several occasions under Jack Ross. 

In this set-up, Clarke, who has signed on an 18-month loan deal, will likely play as the right-sided centre-back or the right wing-back. The 20-year-old spent the first half of the 2021/22 season on loan at Ross County, scoring three goals and providing two assists with an xG of only 1.6 in the cinch Premiership, according to FotMob. He also boasts an 80% tackle success rate and 62 clearances to his name this season. If he can replicate this form at Hibs, he could become a great asset for Maloney both offensively and defensively. 

The latest arrival to the squad, Bushiri, should also improve Hibs’ defence. Arguably, The Hibees’ biggest issues this season have been keeping clean sheets and holding onto leads. Take, for example, the Premier Sports Cup final, where Hibs conceded one minute after taking the lead against Celtic and consequently lost the match. 

Although Bushiri has not featured for Norwich this season, he has plenty of experience in his native Belgium and has been capped at under-19 and under-21 levels for his country. Bushiri has highlighted Maloney as one of the key reasons he chose to join Hibs, due to his work with the Belgian national team. Interestingly, Bushiri played alongside former Hibs midfielder Stephane Omeonga for the Belgian under-21 side. With Paul McGinn and Ryan Porteous suspended for Hibs’ clash with Celtic on Monday, both Clarke and Bushiri will likely feature in some capacity. 

New Hibs boss Shaun Maloney has been backed heavily in the transfer market thus far.
(Photo Credit – Hibernian Football Club)

At the other end of the pitch, Mueller and Melkersen are expected to give Maloney more options in attack with both players comfortable playing on the wings or through the middle. Hibs have relied heavily on Martin Boyle this season to both score and create goals for the side, which has led to the attack becoming very one-dimensional at times. With these new options, it is likely The Cabbage’s front line will have a lot more variety.  

Mueller already has two caps for the American national team and was named Man of the Match in his international debut as he scored two goals and provided an assist in the side’s 6-0 victory over El Salvador. This meant Mueller became the sixth player in the history of the American international side to score two goals in their debut. At club level, Mueller has recorded 18 goals and 20 assists during his 109 Major League Soccer (MLS) career appearances meaning he can bring both goals and creativity to the Easter Road outfit.  

Hibs tried to sign him permanently in the summer but were unable to bring the deal forward and the winger completed his MLS campaign with Orlando City finishing 6th in the Eastern Conference table. During his time at City, Mueller played alongside the likes of former Brazil striker Alexandre Pato and UEFA Champions League winner Nani.

Melkersen, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday, is another exciting acquisition for Hibs. The young striker scored an impressive 19 goals in all competitions while playing for Ranheim IL in the Norwegian second tier last year. With Kevin Nisbet struggling to find his form this season, Christian Doidge’s injury issues, and the recent departure of Jamie Gullan, Melkersen is likely to add a much-needed goal threat to Maloney’s side. He could be deployed in a front two with Nisbet in the 3-4-1-2 or perhaps in the middle of a three with Boyle and Mueller flanking him in a 3-4-3.  

Another option to aid the attack is Dylan Tait. The midfielder, who signed on a pre-contract at Hibs, spent the first half of the season at Raith Rovers before moving to the Edinburgh side this month. The 20-year-old is a highly rated midfielder who is likely to add more creativity to the midfield and attack. Hibs have struggled to create from the midfield this season and Tait is expected to improve this aspect. In the 3-4-1-2, Tait may be deployed as the number 10 behind the strikers or perhaps deeper to bolster the midfield. Due to his age, he may not break into the team straight away, but he is certainly a talented player to keep an eye on. 

Finally, there is Ewan Henderson. The attacking midfielder worked with Maloney during his time at the Celtic academy and – similarly to Bushiri – the 21-year-old has cited the manager as one of the main reasons why he chose to join Hibs. Like Tait, Henderson can fill several midfield positions and is likely to become a key player over the coming months. Henderson’s deal at Hibs is an initial six-month loan with the deal to be made permanent in the summer. 

The midfielder has been capped at multiple youth levels for Scotland and has made several first-team appearances for Celtic, including in their 3-2 defeat against Real Betis in the UEFA Europa League where Henderson found himself on the scoresheet. If Ewan can deliver success for Hibs like his brother Liam, he’ll be a fan favourite in no time.

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