To give Nick Montgomery his due, he was consistent in his messaging throughout December and January that players returning from international duty and injury, and a raft of new signings would help turn things around on the pitch for Hibs. 

That gritty 1-0 win at Livingston on December 9 feels like a long time ago - even longer at half-time of the chastening defeat by St Mirren earlier this month. Tellingly, the winning goal that day was scored by Martin Boyle, and while he missed a penalty during the 1-0 Edinburgh derby defeat by Hearts in late December, his talismanic properties were certainly missed throughout January and early February when he was at the Asian Cup with Australia. A goal and an assist against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup fifth round was perhaps a reminder of what he can bring to a Hibs team that now looks very different with seven in and seven out throughout the winter transfer window. 

Chris Cadden and Adam Le Fondre are back from injury, Socceroos duo Boyle and Lewis Miller have returned to domestic football, and the likes of Myziane Maolida, Nathan Moriah-Welsh, and Nectar Triantis are adjusting to the Scottish game. But who makes up Hibs' strongest XI in the newly-utilised 433 as things stand? Who gets in the three-man midfield or the three-pronged forward line? Which central-defensive pairing is strongest? And are the full-backs obvious picks? Here's what the data says... 

Goalkeeper - David Marshall 

He turns 39 in under a month but the former Scotland internationalist is undoubtedly the first pick between the sticks for Hibs at the moment. But he's also gone from being one of the worst-performing goalkeepers in the Scottish top flight to one of the best, coinciding with the arrival of Miguel Miranda, who coaxed similar performances out of another veteran 'keeper in Danny Vukovic at Central Coast Mariners last season. 

Marshall is second only to Jack Butland of Rangers in the league table of Scottish Premiership goalkeepers. The Hibs custodian may be comfortably mid-table for some metrics such as his save percentage and goals conceded, but his goals saved above average (GSAA) stats are what propel him to near the summit of No.1s. GSAA measures how many shots a goalkeeper saves beyond what they are expected to. So while outfield players can have expected goal (xG) stats, goalkeepers have GSAA stats - and Marshall's GSAA is at 3.20, meaning he is saving on average 3.20 shots more than he is expected to each game. That's more than Will Dennis of Kilmarnock (2.74), St Johnstone's Dimitar Mitov (2.66), Butland (2.63) and Zander Clark of Hearts (1.70). 

It's worth pointing out that Marshall remains in such a lofty position even after consecutive 3-0 defeats at home by Rangers and St Mirren, and having not kept a clean sheet in the league since December 9. His contract is up in the summer and it remains to be seen what direction Hibs take. But on his current form, he is not as much of a weak link as he was and both player and coaching staff deserve credit for the turnaround. 

Right-back - Lewis Miller

How many players do you think have played right-back at some point for Hibs this season? Three? Four? Try seven. Lewis Miller, Kanayo Megwa, and Rory Whittaker have all played there as out-and-out full-backs while Riley Harbottle featured there in Lee Johnson's last game in charge against Livingston. Lewis Stevenson and Will Fish have both filled in there on one or two occasions as well while Chris Cadden made his comeback as a late sub for Miller against Inverness CT. 

It hasn't quite been a problem position... provided Miller has been available. While there were questions about some of his performances before leaving on international duty in January, his stats help illustrate why Hibs struggled so much without him in the back four. He beats the league average for a full-back for tackles and interceptions, pressures, passing, successful dribbles, and aerial wins, and unsurprisingly ranks better than his right-back colleagues at Easter Road for those metrics. What won't come as a surprise to anyone who regularly watches Hibs is that turnovers and losing the ball are where Miller is weakest.


Although they are smaller sample sizes in terms of matches played, both Megwa and Whittaker have fared better in those two metrics, although Miller's greater attacking focus might also have helped skew the numbers. Long story short, Hibs are simply a better team with Miller at right-back and his appearances in green and white since returning from the Asian Cup back that up. The return of Cadden, too, gives Hibs two right-backs with differing strengths who are both capable of starting, But given how much Miller has improved under Montgomery, it's not unthinkable that Cadden could do likewise.

Right-sided centre-back - Will Fish

While the debate rages on about Hibs and the recruitment of centre-backs over the last few seasons, the on-loan Manchester United defender is quietly going about his business in some style. The only ever-present of the Montgomery tenure, he has played in all bar one of Hibs' fixtures in all competitions this season and started all but two of them.

He turns 21 later this week, which makes his stand-out numbers all the more impressive. Compared to the league average Fish performs better in passing (83% to 76%), tackles (1.30 per game to 1.25) and interceptions (1.81 to 1.20), aerial wins (4.73 to 4.52), and how often he loses the ball (68% to 75%). After a somewhat shaky start to his second season on loan in the Capital, he has settled to become a consistent performer in the RCB berth, and it says a lot about his ability that Rocky Bushiri and Paul Hanlon were battling it out for the LCB role, which now might be Nectar Triantis' to lose.

Left-sided centre-back - Nectar Triantis

The Australian stopper may have only played a couple of league matches for Hibs since signing on loan from Sunderland towards the end of the window but like Fish, his tender years belie his influence. We know Montgomery likes his centre-backs to be able to play out from the back and having had Triantis at Central Coast Mariners, knows what the 20-year-old is capable of.

Compared to the league average Triantis is a stronger performer for passing (80% to 76%), tackles (3.59 per game to 1.25), and interceptions (1.36 per game to 1.20) while the number of times he loses the ball is on a par with the average for the division. Where the stats suggest he needs to improve is aerial wins but with just two games to work from, in which Hibs conceded five goals, his initial numbers are promising to say the least. 


Comparing Triantis with Hanlon reveals that the 34-year-old is a better operator when it comes to passing, avoiding losing the ball, aerial wins, and long balls, but the younger centre-half appears stronger in terms of interceptions and tackling. It's a similar story with Bushiri: the DR Congo internationalist also tops Triantis for passing and aerial wins but loses the ball far more than the on-loan defender. 

Left-back - Jordan Obita

We knew it would eventually happen someday, and this season proved to be the campaign in which Lewis Stevenson lost his left-back throne having seen off several pretenders over the years. Now 36, the Easter Road stalwart is no longer a first pick but still has something to offer as a squad player going by his StatsBomb numbers. 

Obita is a perfect fit for the attacking full-back role that is crucial to the way Montgomery wants to play, but comparing the two left-backs shows their respective strengths and weaknesses. Obita comes out on top for successful dribbles, aerial wins, and how he uses the ball. Stevenson on the other hand is stronger in interceptions and pressures and is less likely to see a player go past him than Obita. 

Central midfield - Nathan Moriah-Welsh, Dylan Levitt, Joe Newell 

If former Bournemouth midfielder Moriah-Welsh can continue his early form for Hibs - and bear in mind he has played less than the equivalent of two league matches - then he will look like a very shrewd signing by the club. Some Cherries fans were surprised to see their club sanctioning a permanent exit and his stats from the St Mirren and Celtic games, despite both ending in defeat, suggest that he can fill the midfield role Hibs have been lacking in recent seasons.

It is an admittedly small sample size but what is hugely noticeable from his numbers so far is that he rarely loses the ball (0.60 to the league average of 1.57), and his pressure regains (5.97 per 90) and pressures (32.85 per 90) are both extremely high. His tackling (3.19 per game) is more than double that of the league average of 1.73 per game. Long story short, Moriah-Welsh is adding a bit of steel to the Hibs midfield and in doing the dirty work, can let the other two midfielders in the central trio play to their strengths. 

It might be a surprising pick based on the fact he is yet to show consistently why Hibs were so keen to bring him in, but he has undoubtedly benefited from the arrival of Moriah-Welsh. Before January, it was something of a toss-up who partnered Newell in the midfield two - Levitt, or Jimmy Jeggo. Both have played the same number of league games for Hibs this season (13.4) and while Levitt edges the numbers in terms of successful dribbles, deep progressions, and passing, what's clear is that he has also been trying to replicate Jeggo's work while trying to do his own - a possible by-product of a lack of midfield variety. 


Throwing Newell into the mix shows enough similarities between him and Levitt, although the Englishman is a stronger performer in terms of attacking play. Jeggo and Newell complemented each other well, having enough differences to form a solid-enough partnership in the middle of the park, which is perhaps why the early days of Montgomery were broadly positive in terms of results and performances. But the arrival of Moriah-Welsh, who can do what Jeggo did and then some, is also getting more out of Levitt and Newell. It's all about finding a midfield balance, and while it's early days, it looks as though Hibs might have finally found the formula in a tweaked formation. 

All this is without factoring in Luke Amos, who still isn't completely match fit, and while he has shown glimpses of his talent he looked a bit off the pace against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Jake Doyle-Hayes, too, is chasing a comeback although at this moment in time would appear to be some way behind Amos in terms of fitness.  

Montgomery's preferred XI might fluctuate depending on opposition, fitness, fixture congestion and so on. But having competition in midfield for the first time in a long time will not only help in terms of squad depth, it should also nudge those who have been undisputed starters into upping their game.

We still haven't seen enough of Emi Marcondes and the minor injury that ruled him out of the defeat by Celtic will likely have set him back slightly as he chases full fitness. But like many of the January arrivals, his early data is promising to say the least - he is outperforming the league average for pressure regains, fouls won, xG/shot, xG, and touches in the box. If he maintains that as he gets fitter, there's every chance he could make it impossible not to pick him from the start in some matches.

Right forward - Martin Boyle

What is immediately obvious from Martin Boyle's stats so far this season is that his shots per game numbers are below the league average, as are expected goals (xG), touches in the box, successful crosses, and successful dribbles.

Given he was being played as a centre-forward at times during Hibs' selection crisis, it is perhaps unsurprising that his influence has been less than he might have liked.

While you might assume a player with Boyle's threat would be even more dangerous in front of goal, it is clear where his strengths lie: zooming up and down the right flank, cutting inside, and terrorising full-backs. He said so as much last week:

"Hopefully I will be back out in my normal wide position. I like to stand players up, I like to be creative and make runs in behind. Ideally, with the signings we have made, we can get Dylan Vente back up top and back in form and scoring goals like we know he is capable of doing and us wide players can give him chances and get close to him and not leave him on his own. We need to start doing that and do it quickly.”

Restored to the right flank against Celtic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle he was a constant threat, contributing a goal and an assist in the Highlands. It seems largely straightforward enough: Hibs look far more dangerous and balanced with their talisman in his familiar wide position.

Keep him there, and the rewards should follow for both player and team.

Centre-forward - Dylan Vente

In Myziane Maolida, Hibs have a versatile attacker capable of playing wide or centrally. He has already bagged two goals, one in the league and one in the cup, and his early numbers are impressive - from his xG (0.36), number of shots per game (2.98), touches in box (6.39 per 90), successful dribbles (0.85 per 90), and pressure regains (6.39 per 90). He is outperforming the league average in every metric measured, except aerial wins and XG/shot and even then the latter is 0.12 to 0.13. 

But it feels a little too early to be trusting him as the first-choice number nine in Montgomery's system, added to which he is still getting up to speed having not played for a while, and when he was playing, competing at a much lower level than the Scottish Premiership. It's a similar story with Adam Le Fondre, for whom injury has reduced his chances. 

By default, almost, Dylan Vente gets the nod as the main striker, but not only is Myziane breathing down his neck, he hasn't been able to play as an out-and-out traditional nine in recent weeks because of a lack of bodies, and surely needs a run in his favoured position - like Boyle.

Against Celtic, he was virtually playing as an auxiliary central midfielder as he man-marked Callum McGregor and perhaps unsurprisingly, his xG, average number of shots per 90, and touches in the box are all below the league average. 


His xG/shot however is on a par and it's worth noting that in terms of turnovers - i.e., how often a player loses the ball via a miscontrol or a failed dribble per 90 minutes - is at 1.53. That's pretty good, with the league average at 3.78 per 90. But you want your number nines in and around the box and scoring goals and when you look at Vente's goal ratio in the Netherlands, he deserves a run in his natural position in this new system to find some form. 

What's heartening for Montgomery however is that Maolida - and to a lesser extent Eliezer Mayenda - are both posting impressive stats from their first few appearances and present solid options off the bench, along with Le Fondre. 

Left forward - Élie Youan

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Sixteen goal contributions by way of ten strikes and six assists in all competitions mark him out as a consistent, potent threat. It doesn't bear thinking about where Hibs would be without his mercurial, frustrating, occasionally peripheral, talent. 

As a wide player he is outperforming the league average in terms of xG, shots per 90, passing, successful dribbles, and touches in the box. His main weakness, to the astonishment of no one, is how often he loses the ball via a miscontrol or a failed dribble, with his numbers clocking in at 5.68 times per 90 minutes, with the league average at 3.61. But perhaps Youan wouldn't be the player he is without the risk and reward element of his game. 

As with Vente, Youan has Myziane breathing down his neck - the on-loan Hertha Berlin attacker trumps his compatriot and former France youth colleague for xG/shot, xG, shots, and touches in the box and while the sample size is small, perhaps the threat of losing what was a nailed-on starting slot for so long could coax more out of the ex-Nantes youngster. And even if it doesn't, having Youan for 70-75 minutes followed by Myziane isn't a bad combination to have on the left flank. 

No surprises... for now

There is nothing too surprising about this XI, in that it broadly reflects what we've seen since the resumption of the domestic campaign: Hibs have key players back from international duty, players returning from injury, and a raft of new signings, some of whom are more up to speed than others. 

A starting XI of Marshall, Miller, Fish, Triantis, Obita, Moriah-Welsh, Newell, Levitt, Boyle, Vente, and Youan is strong on paper, and gives substitute options from Jojo Wollacott, Chris Cadden, Paul Hanlon, Lewis Stevenson, Luke Amos, Eliezer Mayenda, Emiliano Marcondes, Myziane Maolida, Jair Tavares, and Adam Le Fondre. Sooner or later Rocky Bushiri will be included following the end of the African Cup of Nations tournament, while Owen Bevan, Josh Campbell, Jake Doyle-Hayes should be back before too long. 

It has only been around 40 days since Montgomery was scrabbling around for bodies for the 2-2 draw with Motherwell, throwing on a partially-fit Harry McKirdy out of necessity more than anything else and relying on five academy youngsters on the bench and another in the starting line-up. 

The ideal situation for Hibs is that they reach a point where articles like this are obsolete because Montgomery can sub on players capable of performing to the same level as the individual they replaced - whether that's during a game, or as part of a rotated selection for specific games or opponents. For more seasons than has been healthy, Hibs have had a clearly defined starting XI and a clearly defined subs' bench. 

Now though, with minor exceptions, and you would imagine they will be dealt with in the summer, Hibs have a bench that is almost as strong as the bulk of the starting XI. The issues that plagued Hibs in the first half of the campaign - a lack of goals, a lack of chances created, and a drop-off in energy levels midway through the second half - are already being dealt with and as players reach full fitness we should, all being well, see a return to the type of performance that had people praising Montgomery following his arrival.