Progress report: Mark Milligan
With the AFC Asian Cup appearing quickly on the horizon, we’re delivering weekly scouting reports on some of our Caltex Socceroos playing abroad.
This week the spotlight is on Mark Milligan, an experienced member of the national team who has made a flawless start to life in Europe.
READ MORE: Milligan's moving tribute to Caltex Socceroos debutants
READ MORE: 'An Amazing story': Evra leads social media tributes after Mabil, Deng debuts
DEBUTANTS: Mabil and Deng on their Caltex Socceroos 'dream come true'
Name: Mark Milligan
Position: Centre-back, Centre midfield
Caltex Socceroos record: 72 appearances, six goals
Division: Scottish Premiership
Milligan must have thought his dream of playing in Europe had passed him by after he left Saudi club Al Ahli not long before his 33rd birthday.
But on the back of his standout performances for Australia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the versatile former Melbourne Victory skipper was snapped up by Hibernian.
Hibs lost three key midfielders in the off-season in John McGinn, Dylan McGeouch and Scott Allan, meaning the capture of Milligan was huge for coach Neil Lennon.
And the Aussie has fitted in seamlessly in the middle of the park at Easter Road, where fellow Caltex Socceroo Jamie Maclaren and recent call-up Martin Boyle also play.
Hibernian has enjoyed a dream start to the campaign in Scotland.
After eight games of the season, Hibs are in second spot – one point ahead of champions Celtic – and just two points behind league leaders Hearts.
With Milligan joining Hibs in mid-August, he has made four appearances for the club so far in league and cup.
And there’s no denying the impact the Aussie has made since his arrival.
Milligan has started all four of those matches in a holding midfield role, with Hibs winning every game without conceding a goal.
“It’s no coincidence since he has come into the team we are unbeaten and keeping clean sheets,” said coach Lennon, who singled Milligan out for special praise recently.
“I think he is a tremendous asset. It was a difficult week for him because he hasn’t played much football and then he was thrown in at the deep end.
“But he has come through it with flying colours and once we get him recovered and refreshed I think we will probably get even better performances from him – he’s my kind of player.”
Hibernian’s 1-0 win away at battlers St Mirren in September was not one of their prettiest displays but showed they had the steel to mount a title challenge.
David Gray’s 14th-minute goal proved the difference in the end, with Hibs then digging in to come away with a hard-fought victory.
And Milligan played a vital role in the middle of the park.
Under increasing pressure in the second-half, Milligan broke up a number of St Mirren attacks with an important tackle or interception, while his positioning was excellent to protect his back four.
Gaining confidence from that win, Hibs came out and thrashed Hamilton 6-0 the following week to keep the pressure on pacesetters Hearts.
“He’s [Milligan] got the experience, he’s got the ability to slow the game down, control it and not many people have that,” teammate Boyle told www.socceroos.com.au recently.
Caltex Socceroos prospects
With the recent retirements of Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak, Milligan is now the senior statesman in this Caltex Socceroos squad.
Having played the majority of his international career in midfield, ‘Millsy’ has been excellent in his new role alongside Trent Sainsbury in the heart of defence.
He was excellent in all three games as a centre-back in Russia and continued that into the friendly with Kuwait on Tuesday (AEDT), which is a good sign ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
While his performances are always of a high quality, Milligan’s leadership is now a big asset to the national team.
We saw that when he took the captaincy for the Kuwait match and the way he spoke in his emotional tribute to debutants Awer Mabil and Thomas Deng post-match.
There is no doubt Milligan still has a lot to offer for coach Graham Arnold on the pitch going forward and he also has a mentoring role with the impressive batch of young talent coming into the Caltex Socceroos set-up now.