The pre-season is done. We’re ready for the big time once more.
After a busy summer of restructuring the squad and adding some more depth in quality for the season ahead, it’s time to kick on and tackle the Scottish Premiership for a second time.
Before all that, we’ve got a pre-season campaign to get through, and I’ve also been appointed Scotland manager too, as you do.
Let’s take a look at the transfer dealings, pre-season fixtures and what’s going to happen for the first half of the season regular.
Lewis Fiorini (Man City, €80k)
With two midfielders leaving – Gavan Holohan and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall – I began the hunt for permanent replacements. Liam Henderson was already set for a Scotland return, having agreed to a deal for him back in January of the first season to come in at the end of his Empoli contract.
Joining him was Lewis Fiorini, a steal at €80k from Man City. Originally they were looking for €70k plus Matt Macey as a backup goalkeeper but an extra €10k allowed me to keep Macey and land a youngster with two years of first-team experience in Scotland already.
Fiorini played over 30 games for St. Johnstone last season and another 15 for Aberdeen the season previous so those will stand to him, you would imagine, when it comes to stepping out in the league this year.
At 22, he ticks a lot of boxes for the club and can move up and down the middle of the park, decent with both feet as well. Determination is strong, there’s decent fitness and pace. He might not be winning much in terms of aerial challenges in the middle of the park but he’ll also add that little bit of flair in play. I’m not expecting to use him as a regular starter but between Jake Doyle-Hayes, Henderson, Mueller, and now Fiorini there are plenty of options.
David Gil (PSG, €2.7m)
I might have rocked the boat a little bit in terms of goalkeeper selection in the wake of Dejan Stojanovic’s departure to LASK (pre-contract in January gone).
In looking for one replacement, I’ve brought in two, the first being former PSG stopper David Gil. The €2.7m will be split across two seasons, PSG also agreeing to pay nearly €7k of his weekly salary for two years meaning he’ll cost me just €2.5k a week in budget commitment.
They may have seen me coming, a bit, but in 60 games over the past two seasons he’s charted a 7.02 and 7.15 average rating, keeping 31 clean sheets. It’s a sizeable outlay but he stats tick a lot of boxes in getting close to a like-for-like replacement for Stojanovic.
Neco Williams (Liverpool, loan)
Neco Williams is a no-brainer. He joined us on loan at the end of the January transfer window for €250k at the time, scoring five in 13 appearances, a huge return.
Comfortable up and down the right flank, he’ll primarily be deployed at right-back this season, with no loan fee involved this time out.
Freddie Woodman (Burnley, €325k)
Maybe something of a panic buy but Woodman has also arrived in to stir competition for the number one spot. He’s likely third in the pecking order but his positioning, concentration and aerial abilities all read well. That, plus his arrival has rattled the 6’9″ Matt Macey.
Somebody is going to miss out game-wise but I’ve got plenty of options now between the posts.
Liam Henderson (Empoli, free)
This one I had arranged in January of the first season with the aim of getting Henderson back to Scotland for the summer. He had previously played 30-odd games for Hibs in the 2015/16 season but in the time since bounced from Celtic to Bari, Verona, Empoli, Lecce, Spezia and is now back in Scotland on a permanent deal at the age of 28.
With Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall choosing Norwich instead of a move up north, he’ll see a lot of game time this season.
Jensen Weir (Brighton, free)
Weir’s arrival from Brighton purely adds to depth in midfield with the loan departures of Dewsbury-Hall, Gav Holohan and Teddy Jenks while Tom Lowery is off to Motherwell.
He can play up and down the middle, hits a decent free-ick, and is very much a team player but also has potential to grow which, at 22 years old, is definitely a good thing.
Keinan Davis (Aston Villa, free)
After eight seasons with Aston Villa, Davis spent last season on loan at Reading as they finished 18th in the Championship.
He did, however, score 13 in 40 appearances with a 7.04 average rating for the season and with his time at Villa at an end was a cheap pick-up to add depth to the forward line.
In terms of outgoings, Tom Lowery is gone. He’s secured a move to Crystal Palace for €1.5m, decent money for the Welsh midfielder. He’s a strong player but spent the entirety of last season giving out about his playing time, then started dropping off in training.
With Henderson and Fiorini coming in this summer, I’m happy to let him off.
Sam Stubbs is another one who’s fallen right down the pecking order where centre-backs are concerned so he’ll stay in Scotland but moves to Motherwell on a €250k deal.
And goalkeeper Murray Johson will spend the season on loan at Queen’s Park with one or two more more to follow before the end of the transfer window.
v Oxford City (9-0)
Our first pre-season fixture saw us load the bus up and make the 6.5-hour drive down the M6, enjoying plenty of team bonding exercises along the way. Joking I am, it was a short hop on the plane (just over an hour-fifteen these days) because who needs to make a 13-hour round trip bus journey for a 90-minute game?
Oxford United weren’t available, I’m told, so we wound up putting nine past neighbours Oxford City in a tune-up fixture before heading to our Spanish training camp.
A first-half hat-trick for Troy Parrott and a brace from Danilo Pereira put us five up at the break. Parrott chipped in a fourth at the start of the second half, with new signings Liam Henderson and Lewis Florini scoring either side of an Ethan Laidlaw volley on the hour mark to complete the rout.
v Racing (4-0)
The preseason camp in Spain starts against Racing, with 10 changes to the side that faced Oxford City including a pre-season start for Matt Macey who has plenty of competition now for places with the arrival of David Gil and Freddie Woodman.
We hit the cross bar early in the first half but Kevin Nesbitt has us ahead 13 minutes in, some good supply from last winter’s signing Alexis Claude-Maurice on the left hand side, linking up with Periera for the assist. Jake Doyle-Hayes tees up a second for Nisbett 60 seconds later and we’re 2-0 up early doors.
We head into the break 2-0 up having peppered the Racing goal over the first half but it’s time to change things up. Ryan Porteous adds a third 20 minutes into the second half, getting on the end of a Claude-Maurice free kick, the Frenchman getting one of his own late on.
A solid performance in both halves gives us a 4-0 win, and a clean sheet for Matt Macey too as he starts picking up game time.
v Elche (2-1)
For this one I was expecting a much tougher challenge, Elche not the worst in the bunch when it comes to Spanish opposition. They’re coming off the back of a 5th-placed finish in the second-tier, getting back to La Liga on their first attempt via the playoffs.
What I thought was an away game was actually run off at Easter Road, just over 6,000 Hibees fans in the stands to see us narrowly outgunned, out-possessed and pick up a string of yellow cards. Good thing that it’s goals and not stats that deliver results.
We win a penalty about a half hour into the game, Danilo Pereira no issue in converting with Josh O’Connor coming on in the second half to double our lead on 50 minutes. To his credit, he’s not played a single senior game ever so this bodes well, it was a cracking solo effort.
A clanger from Aapo Halme lead to Lucas Boyé nabbing one for Elche on the hour mark but that’s all she wrote. Another win and one more game to go.
v Merandés (2-1)
Another nine or ten changes to the starting lineup including a start for a new signing and third-choice goalkeeper, Freddie Woodman (Burnley). 15-year-old George Campbell starts at the back beside Dammers as well, a savage-looking prospect for the future.
Somewhat against the run of play, they get the opening goal of the game, a fine header from Guille Andrés on 38 minutes, but we level things just before halftime, Neco Williams finding new striker Keinan Davis (Fulham) with a lovely cross from the right to head home.
Another youngster, Ethan Laidlaw, gives us the lead on the hour mark with a tap-in just inside the six-yard box, tactical changes shifting the game in our favour possession-wise. We create five or six more solid chances in the second half but it’s a 2-1 win for us at the end of the day.
Four games, four wins, 17 goals and two clean sheets.
Up next, the league!
The draw for the second round of the Premier Sports Cup (Scottish League Cup) was made between the Elche and Merandés games giving us an away trip to Alloa. We didn’t fair well in the competition at all last season so it would be nice to dig out a run of form here.
I’ve always been a fan of having defenders as captains so Ryan Porteous remains on as captain this season with Aapo Halme his deputy.
Financially as pre-season comes to a close and we roll into August, we’re doing well enough money-wise. There’s just over €9m in the bank with €1.8m in the transfer budget. Regarding the wage budget, I’ve still got up to €22k available should I need to bring anyone else.
The aim for the Premier Sports Cup (league cup) this year is to reach the semi-final at a minimum, same for the Scottish Cup. From the league, the board are looking for qualifying for the Europa Conference League – meaning a fourth-placed finish or above – with the aim of being competitive in the Europa League this season.
I’ve got a 23-strong squad registered for the season ahead but with HGC rules, Dylan Tait has to miss out as the majority of the homegrown players are still under 21 and don’t need to be registered.
In the next instalment, we’ll be looking at how the first half of the season has gone with a raft of games across domestic and European cup competition set to follow between August and December.
We’ll be starting the season away to St. Johnstone, meeting Alloa in the second round of the League Cup and waiting to find out who we meet in the Europa League playoffs.
On we go…
This is the second part in a series of posts following my second season with Hibernian in Scotland as we work through 2024/25 in Football Manager 2022. Read the first part here.