Hibernian season preview: Can Hibs secure a European return?
Stephen Mallan celebrating his goal against Kilmarnock (Getty Images/Callum Landells)

Hibernian's 2018/19 campaign left a lot to be desired. Quarter-final exits in both cups and a disappointing fifth-place finish leaves the Edinburgh side with a lot to improve upon in the upcoming season. 

A string of poor performances and a row with the players saw manager Neil Lennon depart the club in January. Paul Heckingbottom replaced the now Celtic boss in Feburay and the side saw a quick upturn in form. This resulted in a 10 game unbeaten run helping the club to secure their position in the top six and finish above Edinburgh rivals Heart of Midlothian

With an abundance of new arrivals, Heckingbottom has made his stamp on the squad and is aiming to return European football to Easter Road.

Transfer Business Overview

So far there have been seven new arrivals at Easter Road this summer as Heckingbottom shapes his squad. Hibs have strengthened in all areas of the pitch which was a necessity as six players departed the club after the expiry of their contracts.

Fan favourite Scott Allan has returned to Edinburgh for his third spell at Hibernian after agreeing to a pre-contract deal in January. The midfielder will play a key role for Hibs as his creativity will be integral in any potential success this season. Allan's one time Rotherham United teammate Joe Newell has joined the club on a free transfer after his contract with the Millers expired. The versatile midfielder is capable of playing on the left side of midfield as well as through the middle of the park. Another midfield addition is Josh Vela who also joined on a free transfer. The former Bolton Wanderers star is somewhat of a coup for Hibernian as just a year ago he was linked with a £5 million move to Blackburn Rovers

Elsewhere, Hibs have strengthed defensively with the free-agent signing of Adam Jackson from Barnsley who will provide Heckingbottom with a plethora of centre back options. Another defensive addition is versatile Welsh full-back, Tom James who joins from Yeovil Town. James can play at both right and left-back giving Heckingbottom some flexibility. The only loan signing so far this window has been Preston North End shot-stopper Chris Maxwell who will provide Ofir Marciano competition for the starting spot in between the sticks this season.  

At the other end of the pitch, Hibs have forked out a fee believed to be around £250,000 for Forest Green Rovers striker Christan Dodige. The Welshman scored 59 times in 108 appearances for Forest Green.

Hibernian's most notable departures are Mark Milligan and Marvin Bartley. The versatile Aussie, Milligan, featured 31 times for Hibernian across all competitions featuring at centre back and also in defensive midfield. Milligan has now joined Southend United and has been appointed club captain. Fan favourite Bartley didn't feature as much as Milligan last season, making just 12 league appearances, but played his part when called upon. Bartley had been at the club since 2015 and helped secure promotion and the famous Scottish Cup win. The midfielder has made the move to Livingston as he will look to play his part in ensuring their survival. The other departures are keeper Ross Laidlaw who has signed for Ross County, Gäel Bigirimana, Jonathan Spector and Miquel Nelom who are currently without a club. 

Early Season Form

Hibernian have been in good form to kick off the season which saw them top group C in the Betfred Cup. They started with a poor 1-1 draw with Stirling Albion, winning on penalties to gain the extra point. However, they quickly corrected this as they proceeded to win the rest of their games and kept a clean sheet in them all.

They defeated Alloa Athletic 2-0, following that up with a 3-0 over Arbroath who had earlier defeated them in a pre-season match 3-2. Hibs then secured their progression into the next round with a 2-0 victory away at Elgin City. The side will have been handed a massive confidence boost following their qualification to the next round, in which they will face Greenock Morton.

Player To Watch: Josh Vela

The former Bolton man is like many of Hibs signings this summer, versatile. The 25-year-old is usually deployed at defensive midfield but during Bolton's 2016/17 campaign he played in a more attacking role, netting 9 times helping Bolton win promotion. He was also deployed at right-back under former Hibs manager Neil Lennon during his spell at Bolton.

Vela is strong in the tackle and likes to get on the ball and pull the strings in midfield. The Englishman can be the key link in transitioning the ball from defence to attack. 

With the interest from Blackburn Rovers and the most recent interest from Hull City, it's a good indicator that Hibs have got a talented player on their hands.

One For The Future: Sean Mackie

Sean Mackie began his career with Hibs as a youngster before being released by the club and signing for Raith Rovers. Hibs then re-signed Mackie from Raith in 2016 for a fee of £25,000. 

Since his return to the club, Mackie has put in some fantastic performances when called upon. Naturally, a left-back, the 20-year-old can also play in midfield. 

Last season Mackie made 11 appearances and contributed 2 assists, one of which was a beautiful ball to striker Florian Kamberi who scored Hibs second as they beat Celtic 2-0.

This season Mackie has already played two full games in the Betfred Cup and looks like he could be starting at left-back in Hibs season opener against St Mirren. Mackie's passing and work rate make him a fantastic asset for Hibs and he is set to improve even more this season.

Predicted Finish

Hibs will be looking to improve upon last seasons finish of fifth place and with the moves, the Edinburgh side has made in the transfer window they're in a position to do so.  

Both Celtic and Rangers have incredibly strong squads and look to have the top two places already secured. Intending to add European football to the schedule for next season, Hibs will be looking to finish third. They will be in with stiff competition from Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and rivals Hearts but if their new additions can kick on then they should have enough about them to finish third.