A 4-0 defeat to Rangers last week has posed significant questions of Nick Montgomery’s Hibs for the first time.

The general consensus from a chastening afternoon at Ibrox is that his side were too open, to susceptible to quick transitions, and lacked the incisive attacking threat with which we had become accustomed since the new manager took the reins at Easter Road. The result must be viewed within the context of this still be a developing team, asked to play a style markedly different to that implemented by Lee Johnson.

More expansive and tactically demanding, it will require patience, and will likely not become fully formed until Montgomery can add his own players. But with a visit from champions Celtic to come this weekend, he will be aware that last weekend’s result and performance cannot be repeated.

Celtic are a better side than Rangers, and have the firepower to brutally exploit the deficiencies witnessed in Govan. There have been calls for Montgomery to rip up his 4-4-2 system when either of Glasgow’s big two are the opponents, in favour of something more conservative.

But history suggests Montgomery cares little for being told what he can’t do. In an interview with The Coaches Voice in September, he revealed ignoring warnings he was committing ‘managerial suicide’ in taking charge of unfancied Central Coast Mariners in Australia. Not only did he make a mockery of such rhetoric by making them champions, he so did with an attacking, progressive brand of football not often found at the heart of underdog stories.

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Repeating such success in Scotland is another matter entirely, but the point is that Montgomery is unlikely to abandon his principles after a single poor result.

The 4-4-2 has become his trademark, but he has shown flexibility with it when the situation requires. It is a simple fact that Hibs cannot be as open against a side which now seems to be motoring under Brendan Rodgers’ guidance, the early season hangover (if you can call it that) from two relentless seasons of Angeball now seemingly shifted.

They were ominously efficient in dismantling Hearts 4-1 at the weekend, and went toe-to-toe with Atletico Madrid in a 2-2 draw in the Champions League on Wednesday night, performances Montgomery will have studied closely. But how can Hibs tighten up without sacrificing their attacking potency?

At Central Coast, Montgomery would occasionally switch from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1. The latter formation could feasibly come into play on Saturday, with the potential to address issues which arose at Ibrox.

Its obvious impact would be to make Hibs less vulnerable when the ball turns over by virtue of having a number 10 who could play closer to the midfield. Celtic play a fluid 4-2-3-1 which will likely deploy Callum McGregor, and Matt O’Riley and possibly Paulo Bernardo in central midfield after Reo Hatate was injured against Atletico, any one of which can provide attacking threat. Stopping McGregor dictating play is non-negotiable if you want to beat Celtic, and a task that someone in a Hibs jersey will surely be assigned with.

In their Viaplay Cup win over Rodgers’ side in August, Kilmarnock provided the blueprint in how to frustrate Celtic, albeit I’m not convinced all aspects of it are transferrable to Hibs. Out of possession, Killie lined up in a shape that drifted between 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 at various points. Their primary tactic off the ball was to allow Celtic’s centre-backs, Maik Nawrocki and Gustaf Lagerbielke to have the ball, while Kyle Magennis man-marked McGregor extremely effectively.

Hibs Observer:

Killie’s shape was very well-organised, and they closed passing lanes into the forward areas excellently. By doing so, they tried to entice Celtic’s centre-backs, with no viable passing options, into stepping forward with the ball.

When this happened, they would attempt to funnel the defender into a wide area, which they would then fill with bodies to either regain possession or force Celtic to go back. Particular emphasis was made to ensure it was Lagerbielke, a right-sided defender playing at left centre-back, they tempted forward. The Swede looked thoroughly uncomfortable at times, and Killie would also look to pick their moment to rob him of the ball, if he hesitated after stepping up.

The below example shows Lagerbielke stepping forward, and moments later he attempts a pass which Killie are able to cut out before attempting to counter.

Hibs Observer:

Lagerbielke is then dragged wide to try and rectify his misplaced pass, and is forced to turn back.

Hibs Observer:

McGregor is forced to drop in to cover the space vacated Lagerbielke, and the defender then passes to his captain with his back to goal. That cues Magennis to press high on McGregor, who in this instance does well to buy a foul, but the danger created by Lagerbielke giving the ball way in the first instance remains evident.

Hibs Observer:

The left-footed Liam Scales is likely to play that position on Saturday, but it would still be preferrable to afford him more of the ball than the highly influential McGregor. And, of course, while the plan itself is sound, it took an enormous level of application and concentration for Kilmarnock to execute it over 90 minutes.

In possession, though, they took a far more direct approach than Hibs are likely to deploy. Goal kicks were sent long every time, as were most free-kicks, and they sought to turn Celtic with balls into the channel from open play. Hibs’ personnel aren’t too well suited to this, but they do have more technical players than Kilmarnock, and will probably continue looking to build from the back.

A further potential tweak is switching to 4-1-4-1.

If Hibs were to line up with Jimmy Jeggo in front of the back four, and place Joe Newell and Dylan Levitt ahead of him, their midfield would feel that bit more solid. Having had to bide his time in recovering from injury, Levitt has made a case for inclusion in recent weeks, and his presence would give Hibs another ball player in the engine room. Retaining possession is so crucial against teams of Celtic’s quality.

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It would also address the issue of Montgomery not having an out-and-out number 10 at his disposal. Newell has played there occasionally, and Josh Campbell could step in – but he has played very little football of late. It would not be beyond Adam Le Fondre, either, but what was noticeable as Hibs toiled against Rangers was Montgomery's lack of game-changing options from the bench.

Strikers do run the risk of becoming isolated in a 4-1-4-1, especially against an opponent likely to dominate possession, but wingers drifting inside to almost become auxiliary forwards has been another feature of Montgomery’s system.

Whatever the system this weekend, though, it is set to be the toughest examination of his Hibs side yet, but one that offers an opportunity to rebuild momentum.