Several early predictions around Rocky Bushiri in Nick Montgomery's new style were of the 'square peg, round hole' variety.

Since arriving at Hibs, his reputation had been that of a pure defender - strong, imposing, and willing to put himself in where it hurts - as opposed to a ball-playing centre-back. Progressive systems, though, demand much more of those at the back these days than simply keeping opponents away from goal.

Deployed on the left of Hibs' central defensive pairing with Will Fish, it was evident that, if Bushiri was to make the role his own, there would be an adjustment period. It was not natural for him to receive the ball and look to open up on his left foot, and his early appearances in the role saw the opposition be largely content to sit off and leave him on it. He had a tendency to look inside onto his stronger right foot, sometimes even moving sideways across the pitch with the ball to give himself a more comfortable angle.

Bushiri alternated the role with Paul Hanlon in those initial weeks, with the veteran a more natural fit to the left-sided role, at least in possession. But Hanlon has mostly been consigned to the bench following the 4-0 defeat to Rangers, and Bushiri has steadily come into his own.

Fans have observed that he has 'gone under the radar' of late, with others taking the lion's share of plaudits. For a centre-back, though, and especially one with which supporters have previously had reservations, not being centre of attention is probably no bad thing.

READ MORE: Hibs boss Montgomery has say on Campbell for Scotland

But there has been clear improvement in Bushiri's handling of Montgomery's in-possession demands, which deserve acknowledgment. The raw numbers certainly speak for themselves. According to Wyscout, in Montgomery's first home game against St Johnstone, Bushiri attempted 11 forward passes. Against Dundee, he attempted 25, completing 22.

That shows a willingness to adapt, plus the effect of increased confidence, likely aided by how he is being coached. The example below demonstrates the improved belief in his game. Receiving a pass from Dylan Levitt, Bushiri is immediately under pressure from Lyall Cameron.

In that first home outing against St Johnstone, it would have been no surprise to see Bushiri take a touch backwards with his right foot, and return the ball to David Marshall, or help the ball on to Jordan Obita just a few yards away, which would have allowed Dundee to pen Hibs in near the touchline. In the above instance, though, he drives forward on his left foot.

With Cameron still hot on his heels, Bushiri keeps his composure to fire a line-breaking pass into the feet of Dylan Vente (initially out of shot).


If Vente takes a better first touch - it gets caught under his foot - then he would have been able to play round the corner to the advancing Jair, allowing Hibs to bear down on the Dundee goal.

Hibs' pass map from the weekend win shows Bushiri's high level of involvement in possession: the larger the circle around a player on the map, the more passes they received. Of course, centre-backs in a possession-based team do tend to see a lot of the ball, and their overall pass numbers are inflated by recycling the ball under little pressure.

However, examples such as the sequence earlier in this piece show that Bushiri is capable of being positive with his distribution. Earlier this week, we broke down Jair's opening goal, and, of course, it was Bushiri who played the ball into the Portuguese.

The DR Congo international has married that greater in-possession effectiveness with defensive solidity in recent weeks. He excelled in the goalless draw with Celtic, and was among those putting his body on the line after Hibs went down to 10-men at the weekend. His defensive stats, summarised below, show Bushiri performing around or above the Premiership average in a number of areas. His defensive action OBV (on-ball value) measures the importance of a players' actions, and Bushiri's suggests he is making decisive defensive contributions regularly this season, so far.

Bushiri and Fish seem to have made that centre-back pairing their own, albeit Montgomery is not currently blessed with a wealth of options at the heart of defence. But that should not take away from improving defensive displays, especially credible given their respective ages.

READ MORE: Hibs learn from Dundee draw as Jair makes key role his own

At 20, Fish is still considered a prospect, but it's worth remembering that as he turns 24 this week, Bushiri is still relatively young for a centre-back. It's a position where players do tend to peak later, and the former Norwich City youth had played very little consistent senior football before arriving at Easter Road in January 2022. Indeed, 2022/23 was essentially a first full, uninterrupted top-flight campaign for Bushiri, and although he is the older of Hibs' current central defensive duo, must still be viewed and evaluated as a developing player.

And there are still improvements to be made, of course, but given the improvement Montgomery  and his coaching staff have extracted from a number of players so far, Bushiri's progression is currently in capable hands.