Hibernian: A run down on Hibs' early-season struggles

Paul Heckingbottom's side have only won one of their opening four league games
Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom has a midfield conundrum

Four points from four games and the looming pressure of an Edinburgh derby on the horizon.

Hibernian head coach Paul Heckingbottom will surely be feeling the squeeze of a disappointing start to the season.

Ahead of Saturday's visit to face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, BBC Scotland takes a look at what has gone wrong at Hibs and why their defence keeps letting them down.

Too "soft" and "pretty" in midfield

Prior to the international break, Heckingbottom lamented his side's performance in a 3-0 defeat by Motherwell, stating that they lacked determination and were too "soft" and "pretty" in the Premiership clash. He may have a point.

So far this season, they have lacked any real physicality in midfield and, as a result, the amount of interceptions they've averaged per league game has dropped from last season's 42.02 per match to just 32.28 - the third worst in the division.

This may be down to a change in personnel in midfield. Last season, Heckingbottom could rely upon Mark Milligan and Stephane Omeonga averaging 6.64 and 3.4 interceptions per game respectively.

This season, Hibs' most productive battler in midfield has been Vykintas Slivka with just 4.17 per game, followed by Josh Vela on 2.76. Stevie Mallan's rate has dropped from 3.78 interceptions per game last season to just 1.43 and returning fans favourite Scott Allan is averaging just 1.42.

To put all of that into context, the five best midfielders in the division last season for interceptions averaged around 7.86 per game.

Failing to stop counter attacks

Heckingbottom hit the nail on the head when he suggested his side have been too soft this season, but the club failed to bring in a direct replacement for the more defensively minded Milligan during the summer window.

This may go a long way to explaining why Hibs have already racked up such horrendous defensive numbers in the Premiership. On top of the 11 goals they've conceded in just four league games, their average shots conceded per Premiership match almost doubled from 11.26 to 20.95.

Counter attacks against Hibs this season.
Counter attacks against Hibs this season.

The 88 shots they've conceded in their opening four league games is the highest in the league and almost twice cross-city rivals Hearts' running total of 48.

This rings true when we dive even deeper into how opposing teams are attacking Hibs in the Premiership. While normal attacks from opposing sides are spread out rather evenly among both flanks and the centre of the park, when it comes to opposing counter attacks, a staggering 53% come down the middle of the pitch.

What's even more telling is that 90% of those counter attacks have so far led to a shot on Ofir Marciano's goal.

While the Easter Road side have undoubtedly suffered from a lack of goals up front and plenty of upheaval or transition in defence, the major issue is in the middle of the park and how Heckingbottom's midfielders can't seem to wrestle control of games away from their opponents.

There is still plenty of football left to play between now and May, but Heckingbottom must begin to plug the holes in his midfield if Hibs are to retain hopes of a top-three finish this season.

Allan a luxury? Missing Bartley steel? - analysis

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Hylton finishes exquisite counter attack against Hibs

Former Hibernian manager John Hughes

Paul's got a wee bit of a problem at Easter Road at the moment in terms of Scott Allan. He's the fans' favourite, beautiful footballer and they tell me he's a fantastic lad with a right good attitude. But is he a luxury player?

The manager's wanted to go with two up front with Florian Kamberi and Christian Doidge and he played Allan wide right and it didn't really work.

It's alright having these players in your team when they can win you a game as long you've got one or two players who understand that he's got talent we've not got and I'm going to do the dirty stuff for him. I'm going to do his running for him.

He wants to get them all in the team and he can't do it. The big miss for them is Martin Boyle because he gave them that pace on the right-hand side.

Former Hibernian striker Kenny Miller

I always liked the boy Marvin Bartley, who has moved on to Livingston.

He played that steel position for them very well. I thought he allowed John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch the platform to go and play and show how good footballers they were.

He would win the ball and give them it. He is a good footballer as well but a physical presence in the middle of the park, could take the ball, could shut the passes off to the strikers and win it.

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