Hibernian: Can Jack Ross build on stability at Easter Road?

By Ben BanksBBC Scotland
Kevin Nisbet, Martin Boyle and Christian Doidge scored 46 goals between them last season
Kevin Nisbet, Martin Boyle and Christian Doidge scored 46 goals between them last season
Scottish Premiership: Motherwell v Hibernian
Venue: Fir Park, Motherwell Date: Sunday, 1 August Time: 16:30 BST
Coverage: Listen live on Sportsound and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

After years of stalling and false starts, Hibernian are now moving through the gears under head coach Jack Ross.

There have been bumps in the road under the 45-year-old. He had to guide them away from a potential relegation fight upon his arrival in November 2019 and last term brought three cup defeats at Hampden.

Pain from a lame Scottish Cup final defeat to St Johnstone still lingers, but questions over whether Ross is the right man for Hibs are far removed.

He recently signed a deal until 2024 off the back of a third place finish in the Scottish Premiership - the club's best since 2005. Should he see that out, Ross would be the longest-serving Hibs manager since Alex Miller's 10-year stint between 1986-96.

Since Tony Mowbray's departure in 2006, only Neil Lennon has been in charge for more than 100 games. And the apparent stability under Ross makes Hibs the safe bet for third again in the view of many.

How many of key quartet will Hibs keep?

In Ross' first full season Hibs amassed 63 points, just four shy of the club's top-flight record, and they earned a best-ever 11 league victories away from home.

Kevin Nisbet (18), Martin Boyle (15) and Christian Doidge (13) all chipped in with goals, while there was a marked improvement at the back, with 0.92 goals conceded per league match - compared to 1.63 the season before.

To complement that formidable attacking trio - or perhaps compensate for any potential departures - winger Daniel Mackay has been recruited, while there may be an attempt to speed up the arrival of American international Chris Mueller, already secured up on a pre-contract deal.

Scott Allan will be a 'new player' in midfield now that he is back to full fitness and Kyle Magennis falls into the same cliched category after a frustrating time with injuries.

Jackson Irvine, Stevie Mallan and Fraser Murray have departed, with Jake Doyle-Hayes drafted in to compete with midfield anchors Joe Newell and Alex Gogic.

Hibs have been linked with St Johnstone's Jamie McCart and do look a little thin in defence, with Darren McGregor and Lewis Stevenson not getting any younger and fellow 2016 Scottish Cup hero David Gray joining the coaching staff.

Captain Paul Hanlon and Ryan Porteous are first picks, while Josh Doig enjoyed a tremendous breakthrough season, adding to Scotland's long list of excellent left-backs.

The latter two will be coveted by others, though, as will Boyle and Nisbet. Keeping them all would be a huge bonus for Ross, but that might well be wishful thinking.

Losing all four by the end of August would be a crushing blow and, again, that falls into the unlikely category. The manager and fans could probably tolerate a couple of sales, along with some more new faces.

Another fast start?

The Edinburgh side open against Motherwell, Ross County, Dundee and Livingston before the first derby of the season at Tynecastle on 12 September. They don't meet Rangers, Aberdeen or Celtic until October.

Hibs would love to replicate the momentum of last season when they lost just two of their opening 12 Premiership games and Ross says mentality will play a key role in that.

"We face a step up over the next couple of weeks, in the league games as well," he said. "Motherwell will provide a sterner test and everything is geared up for that game on Sunday. After that it becomes about Europe again.

"That's a new experience for us, a quick turnaround in games and having to produce a good performance, then another good performance and another good performance.

"Good players are physically strong enough to deal with that challenge, it's just making sure, mindset-wise, they maintain that strength."

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