FOLLOWING the dismissal of Paul Heckingbottom after a poor start to the campaign in the capital, former Sunderland, St Mirren and Alloa manager Jack Ross was appointed as the Englishman's successor.

The news was greeted largely positively from fans of the Leith club and despite narrowly missing out on promotion to the English Championship via the play-offs with Sunderland last term, the 43-year-old's stock remains high in Scotland.

It isn't difficult to see why. Yes, Ross was at the helm when Alloa were relegated to League One but he only took over at Recreation Park midway through the campaign and under his guidance, Alloa put up a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful fight against relegation.

The following season Alloa were sitting in second place and looking good for promotion when Jack left the club once St Mirren came calling. The Paisley outfit were staring back-to-back relegations in the face and it was Ross that ultimately steered them to safety before clinching the Championship title the following season.

This impressive turnaround caught the eye of Sunderland and while Ross was unable to repeat his achievements, there remains a sense that he may have been given the boot a little prematurely. After 76 games in charge, Ross had lost 11 in total: since his dismissal, Sunderland have lost five of their nine fixtures.

There is little doubt that the job that awaits Ross at Easter Road is a challenging one as he looks to guide the Leith side towards the top end of the Premiership standings and consistently challenge for European football. So, what exactly are the issues facing him?


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Make use of the wingers

Ross will surely waste no time in getting his ideas across to his new charges and going by the data, the former St Mirren boss has quite a job on his hands. At Sunderland and St Mirren, Ross' teams were amongst the top dribblers in their respective leagues. No Championship team ran with the ball as much as the Paisley side did during their Championship-winning campaign, and only Charlton Athletic averaged more dribbles than Sunderland in last season's League One.

Only two Premiership sides, Livingston and Ross County, have attempted fewer dribbles than Hibernian this season and this will be something that Ross will be eager to change at the earliest opportunity. Ross generally instructs his wingers to carry the ball and drive at their opposite numbers and we can expect Hibs to do the same in the coming weeks.

The Easter Road side have the right personnel in place for this, too. The importance of Martin Boyle's return from injury cannot be understated, while Daryl Horgan and Glenn Middleton are both natural dribblers and have the ability to torment opposition defences. Instilling these players with confidence and ensuring that they are given opportunities to run with the ball at their feet is a must for Ross.


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Get the most out of Mallan

Stevie Mallan is a frustrating player to watch. Anyone who can recall his first ever senior goal for St Mirren - where the midfielder won the ball in the middle of the park, beat three players then curled the ball into the far corner - will tell you that the 23-year-old has stacks of natural ability.

Mallan's main strength comes from his ability to strike a ball from range but all too often, the centre-mid skews the ball wide or over the bar when he is perhaps better placed to tee up a team-mate instead.

For an idea of how Mallan could develop under Ross, we should examine Lewis Morgan's progress under the 43-year-old. At St Mirren, Ross moulded Morgan and made him a highly effective player: so much so that he earned a move to Celtic.

Obviously, the two players play in different roles but parallels can still be drawn. Ross likes his teams to hit shots from outside the box - at Sunderland, 41% of their efforts came from outside the box while around half of St Mirren's shots were from outside the area - and while Morgan made a habit of scoring from distance for St Mirren, there is no better Hibs player to capitalise on this than Mallan.

Morgan scored 14 goals in St Mirren's Championship-winning season with nine of those struck from outside the box: the highest tally of any second-tier player that season. Morgan also accrued six league assists that year, second only to then-Inverness midfielder Liam Polworth, and developed into a player who is equally adept at setting up his team-mates as he is having a go from distance. If Mallan can follow this blueprint, he could be transformed by Ross.

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Balance the midfield

Ross' preferred formation throughout his managerial career has been a 4-2-3-1. The midfield is the most intriguing aspect here; in particular, the two players who sit behind the number 10.

Scott Allan, one would imagine, would be a nailed-on pick to start behind the striker but it's a little less certain further back. At Sunderland and St Mirren, one of this pairing would primarily be deployed as a ball-winner while the other would drift forward between the lines. Mallan seems perfectly suited to the latter role and, statistically, there is only one real candidate for the former.

Melker Hallberg is the only current Hibernian midfielder capable of effectively contributing defensively and as such, seems the obvious choice to fill in in midfield. The Swede comfortably has the highest defensive duel success rate of any of the midfielders on the books at Easter Road and, until January at least, should be Ross' go-to man for this position.