'Disappointment' was the most-used word in Nick Montgomery's press conference in Hampden Park's auditorium on Saturday night, with 12 variations used during his nine-minute long session with the assembled media.

He was also keen to stress that it had been a good performance from his side. And there were good bits. It was certainly a lot more slick than the sometimes-laborious nature of Tuesday night's 2-2 draw with Ross County, although that's an admittedly low bar, but there was a lot to like about individual performances. The only thing missing was a goal - or at least, a goal that wasn't eventually chalked off. 

On paper, at least, it was a strong starting line-up: a hugely experienced goalkeeper who has improved under the new regime;  a defence that, while still prone to the odd bit of nonsense, has solidified; the mercurial Élie Youan on one wing and the ever-improving Jair Tavares on the other; a midfield comprising a Welsh internationalist and in Joe Newell a player at his peak; and a forward pairing of the talismanic Martin Boyle, wearing his 'lucky' League Cup semi-final boots, and the hard-working Dylan Vente. 

But it was actually a portion of Aberdeen manager Barry Robson's post-match comments that struck a chord: "It’s a new team and we’ve not had a lot of time on the training ground with them. But what a spirit, what a group. They are fighting for their club and they’re in a final."

You can have all the goalmouth activity you like but perhaps there was a little bit of fight missing from Hibs. Not in a weak sense, but more a naivety in mistakenly believing, or hoping, that hard work and individual talent is enough in games like these. 

Rising injury toll lays bare squad depth concerns

There were obviously mitigating circumstances. The absences of Jimmy Jeggo and Adam Le Fondre were keenly felt by Hibs. On top of that no Chris Cadden, no Harry McKirdy, no Jake Doyle-Hayes. Questions over Boyle's fitness. Christian Doidge coming back after sitting out two games with a knock. Players battling through the pain barrier because there are no alternatives. It doesn't seem so long ago that Lee Johnson was bemoaning the bloated nature of his squad, and the former Easter Road boss did have a point. But is the squad now looking a little light? 

Hibs had two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old among their substitutes yesterday. Make no mistake: Josh Landers, Rudi Molotnikov, and Rory Whittaker are all talented players and in the squad because they are trusted to come on and perform, and it would have been a proud moment for Landers when he made his debut as a late replacement for Vente. But it also laid bare the reality that, having already introduced Doidge to the fray, Hibs were pinning any lingering hopes of a goal at the national stadium on a 16-year-old striker with no previous senior experience. Hibs will hope Le Fondre's omission will not keep him out for long because he brings so much more to the frontline than a goal threat.

Spare a thought too for Doyle-Hayes, who struggled up the stairs at Hampden on crutches, with the Irishman having suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury that dogged him last season. His fleeting performances during the second half of last season suggest he may well thrive in Montgomery's system but it seems like the chance to assess that in person may be some way off. The glimmer of hope for Montgomery and Hibs fans is that Cadden and McKirdy are on the road to a return, albeit both are some way off involvement just yet. 

Elias Melkersen (four goals in eight games for Strømsgodset) will likely be available from January and having seen the transformation in Jair Tavares, the Norwegian forward is another who could well benefit from the change in approach from the coaching staff. Melkersen's return from loan coupled with projected injury comebacks for Cadden and McKirdy, and potentially Doyle-Hayes would effectively hand Montgomery four 'new' signings. 

Need for time versus the need for results

It takes time for new managers to be able to fully implement their style of play when they take the reins at a new club, which is a bit of an anomaly in a sport where results are key and required from the get-go. It is still early days for Montgomery at Hibs, with just nine games in all competitions under his belt, but there are improvements to be seen, both collectively and individually. 

What might offer a crumb of comfort to Hibs fans as they pick over the debris following another melancholy trudge home from Hampden is that Montgomery has already identified what needs to change. 

"What we have to do now is make sure that we’re a little bit harder to score against, and a little bit more ruthless in the box," he stated after the semi-final. "We have to turn the draws into wins and when we’re winning games we have to control it and see the game out, and be a little bit more game-smart. That’s something I’ve been talking about to the boys a lot; you have to manage things within the game and that comes from experience."

The next step - via 'hard work on the training ground', in Montgomery's words - is putting that into practice. If the players can improve that in the same way they've refined other aspects of their game, then some of those draws could well be wins, and some of those two-goal leads will result in three points rather than one point. 

What now for Hibs?

Some fans have suggested that things are no better under Montgomery than they were with Johnson at the helm but having tasted defeat at Hampden more often than not, particularly in recent years, some supporters might have understandably been more than a little frustrated come the final whistle. Performances on the whole would suggest otherwise, as would Jair's renaissance, the atmosphere in the camp and broadly speaking, results in that I'm not sure Hibs would have recorded some of the scorelines they have under Montgomery had changes not been made. That's not to say everything is rosy; clearly there is a way to go. But things appear to be moving in the right direction.

While Saturday night did feel a little bit groundhoggy, no one was thrown under the bus afterwards, Montgomery described the two key incidents in the second-half as pivotal to the outcome of the game but refused to blame them for defeat, and he highlighted where improvements needed to be made. 

A trip to St Mirren looks like a daunting prospect for Hibs, particularly with questions over the fitness of Boyle, Jeggo, and Le Fondre and the dent in morale from the semi-final defeat. Hibs have already beaten the Buddies under Montgomery, albeit at home and in the earlier rounds of the Viaplay Cup, but that gives the coaching staff a starting point for their preparations. Ideally, Wednesday night will tell us how well equipped the current squad is to keep making incremental progress, and also what Montgomery has tweaked as he tries to coax more out of this team.