IT has been a fairly inauspicious start to the 2019/20 season at Easter Road. Despite finishing last season on a high, the Leith club have so far underwhelmed this campaign. Paul Heckingbottom has found himself under increasing pressure from Hibernian supporters as the calls for him to be axed have grown louder and louder.

Now, these calls might be a little premature. After all, we are only four games into the Premiership season and Hibs are still in the League Cup. It wasn't all that long ago that the Hibernian supporters were singing the Englishman's praises after he had guided the club to a fifth-placed finish, overhauling their rivals Hearts in the process.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that Hibernian haven't exactly flown out of the traps this time around. There has been the 6-1 dismantling at Ibrox, dropped points at home to St Johnstone and most recently a dispiriting 3-0 defeat at the hands of Motherwell at Fir Park. And while Hibs are in the quarter-finals of the League Cup, they have huffed and puffed to get there. In the group stages, Hibs laboured to a 1-1 draw with League Two's Stirling Albion before coming out on top on penalties and in the round of 16, Hibs spurned a two-goal lead over Morton before ultimately seeing off the Championship club in extra time.

So, what's changed?

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The graphic above details Hibernian's goals and goals against from the club's first four league games this season, and the corresponding expected goals (xG) values. Admittedly, four games is a small sample size but it does provide us with an early indicator of how Heckingbottom's side are getting on.

Unsuprisingly, Hibs' performance in all of these metrics has declined. They're scoring fewer goals but most concerningly of all, the defence are letting in nearly three times as many as they were last season.

Interestingly, Hibernian's xG - while it has decreased - isn't too far away from what it was last season, so we can deduce that Heckingbottom's team are still making roughly the same amount of quality goalscoring opportunities. But their xG against has nearly doubled, indicating that the defence has become significantly more porous and open.

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When we dig a little deeper into Hibs' defensive stats, the results make for alarming viewing. So far this season, Hibs are conceding nearly twice as many shots, are making around 25% fewer interceptions and are winning just half of their defensive duels. 

The problem seems to lie in the midfield of this Hibs side. Last season, Heckingbottom could call on the likes of Marvin Bartley, Mark Milligan or Stephane Omeonga to provide some steel in the middle of the park, which in turn gave more creative players like Stevie Mallan license to roam forward.

This year, however, there is no getting away from the fact that Heckingbottom's midfield regularly looks lightweight. Mallan, Scott Allan, and Vykintas Slivka are good players, but are all more technically gifted than defensively-minded. Josh Vela has been brought in from Bolton, presumably with the remit to act as a midfield enforcer, but the middle of the park still looks decidedly unbalanced.

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The above graphic outlines each of Hibs' midfielders' defensive stats from the current season, and compares them to Omeonga, Milligan and Bartley's numbers last season as a frame of reference. We can see that, in particular, Mallan and Allan contribute very little defensively. Mallan, to his credit, attempts a good number of tackles but is largely unsuccessful in this regard. Slivka, meanwhile, is poor in the tackle but does pull his weight in terms of interceptions.

Vela is the standout defensive performer in this current iteration of the Hibernian midfield and to be fair, his figures aren't bad. He attempts more tackles than Omeonga, Milligan or Bartley did last year, and has a marginally lower success rate. But Vela's predecessors all comfortably outperform the former Bolton man when it comes to interceptions.

Essentially, Vela is the only player in Hibernian's midfield who is currently taking responsibility for defensive phases of play but the fact of the matter is that he cannot do it all alone. That Heckingbottom allowed Milligan, Omeonga and Bartley to leave is not surprising in and of itself but his decision to replace these three players with one - Vela - is baffling. The likes of Allan, Mallan and Slivka have never been especially defensively-minded and none are particularly suited to this style of play. As long as Vela is given sole responsibilty to win the ball back in the middle of the park, Hibs will continue to struggle.