Just as 2023 concluded on a sour note, 2024 commenced with frustration at Easter Road.

Hibs did manage to avoid a third straight Premiership defeat by the skin of their teeth, but a 2-2 draw with Motherwell felt like an opportunity missed to kick off the New Year on a high. It was an afternoon that left you wondering quite how Nick Montgomery's players found themselves in the desperate situation that they did - scrambling around in stoppage time for an equaliser which eventually arrived through Élie Youan's second strike of the day.

It seemed an unlikely conclusion to proceedings when Hibs set about dominating the opening 35 minutes, taking a deserved lead and causing Motherwell no shortage of defensive issues. But they were unable to turn a positive spell into a decisive advantage, and Motherwell's two goals either side of the interval took the wind from the sails of a Hibs side that, albeit relatively briefly, appeared to be discovering their attacking verve.

But why weren't they able to make that first-half dominance count?

At first glance, the headline statistics from the fixture don't appear to tell the story of how it panned out. StatsBomb data credits Hibs with a lower xG than Motherwell (0.64 v 0.96), and it is a slightly jarring outcome when considering how Hibs bossed much of the opening period.

Motherwell didn't create much over the piece, but their two big chances were rated as having higher xG than Hibs' two, which perhaps isn't surprising considering how both home goals were all down to the work of Youan, plus a significant deflection for the second. 

But the xG outcome seems to reflect that Hibs repeatedly worked their way into good attacking positions without being able to apply the final pass. xG measures the quality of a chance created, but there were multiple instances where Hibs' good build-up did not end with a shot taken. Montgomery's side had three shots on target to Motherwell's four, despite working better openings on the day.

Hibs' approach to breaking Motherwell down was largely sensible in the first 45, with the visitors lined up in a 5-3-2. Blair Spittal was deployed at right wing-back, not the midfielder's natural position, and it allowed Hibs to create overloads down their left. Jair Tavares was able to isolate right centre-back Stephen O'Donnell on several occasions, while Jordan Obita, too, frequently advanced into the final third.

READ MORE: Every word from Nick Montgomery Hibs Q&A after Motherwell draw

Montgomery spoke afterwards about the need to improve on the 'fine margins', and while he did this mainly in reference to the goals conceded, it applies just as much to the openings not capitalised upon at the other end. Hibs were unable to convert several dangerous attacks into goals, or even shots on target.

There were several factors behind this. At times, Motherwell simply defended stoutly and snuffed out dangerous moments, but there were instances where Hibs could have done better. One repeated issue was simply not having enough bodies in the box to capitalise on good build-up.

Much has been said about Dylan Vente frequently being found far away from goal and it was certainly highlighted at various points on Tuesday. The central midfield pairing of Joe Newell and Dylan Levitt often started very deep, and that inevitably drags Vente back to ensure there's not an enormous gap between midfield and attack.

In the example below, both Newell and Levitt are almost side by side only a few steps ahead of their centre-backs, which sees Vente back in his own half.

The ball goes wide to Obita, who quickly releases Jair down the left, but because Vente has dropped so deep, he is unable to make up the ground to get into the box. When Jair delivers, he only has the outnumbered Christian Doidge and Youan in the area, with the Welshman the only realistic option to try and hit. Vente does call for a cutback, but it would be a tight squeeze to bypass Motherwell's covering midfielder.

If Hibs are to persist with Vente being the deeper of two forwards, then it becomes imperative to get more bodies into the box when they work good positions in the wide areas. Vente helped create those good positions, but a lack of numbers in the box let Motherwell off the hook. In the example below, the Dutchman receives from Obita and plays out to Jair, who quickly beats his man.

Again, though, Jair has very little to hit in the box, with Doidge making a front post run - where scoring becomes more difficult - and Youan blocked off around the back. The huge area at the edge of the box is where, ideally, Hibs would look to have someone arriving late for a cut-back, but there's no one there. Vente is out of shot below having been fouled after playing the pass to Jair.

Later in the half, Vente again drops to receive a pass inside and does well to release Youan in behind on the opposite flank.

But, as you can see below, Youan only has Doidge to aim at, and he doesn't read the striker's run, cutting back into an area into which his team-mate had initially feinted before pulling away to the back post. What's most evident, however, is the dearth of numbers backing up the attack, both from the opposite flank and with supporting runs from midfield.

When Vente did manage to get himself in the box, chances still didn't come his way. Once more, there were multiple factors at play, such as similarly rushed decision-making as was seen in the defeat to Hearts. As he did numerous times in the first half, Jair does brilliantly to fashion space for himself, but he fails to spot the simple square pass to Vente, and instead blindly cuts the ball back to no one.

Speaking to the media last week, Vente himself admitted he must also do more to make things happen for himself.

“I am hard on myself because I know I can do more,” he said. “For me, it’s more if I miss chances, as a striker I am really disappointed. But I also have to find a way to get those chances. I replay them in my mind but if you want to sleep, I can’t, I am thinking like crazy. I take a moment out of a game and I start rethinking it, like 70 times."

He has likely suffered from the absence of Adam Le Fondre, who was adept at filling the role Vente is currently occupying, and the two looked to have established a decent understanding. Until he returns though, Montgomery likely feels that Vente is the best operator as the deeper forward, as neither Martin Boyle - prior to his departure for international duty - nor Doidge seem suited to it.