FRANCK Sauzee won his first game as Hibs manager, much to his relief, after 11 tries without a victory.
It was no more than was expected of his players against Second Division Stranraer, who found themselves ultimately outclassed by the side sitting second bottom of the SPL.
Goals from Paco Luna and David Zitelli in the opening quarter of an hour banished all fears of an upset, and Hibs cruised into the last 16 of the Scottish Cup with second-half strikes from Gary Smith and substitute Eduardo Hurtado.
Given the obvious strain of the situation surrounding him, the last thing Sauzee needed was the news that his captain John O’Neil had failed a fitness test on a bitterly cold Leith evening. The influential midfielder’s berth went to Matthias Jack, while Derek Townsley was handed only his second start in place of the suspended Freddy Arpinon, and Paco Luna replaced broken-leg victim Tom McManus in attack.
Unsurprisingly, Stranraer manager Billy McLaren kept faith with the side which earned all the plaudits from the goalless draw between the teams at Stair Park ten days previous, and the Second Division side took just four minutes to signal they still had plenty of ambition.
Ian Harty, their leading scorer who was released by Hearts as a youngster, stung the fingers of Nick Colgan with a 20-yard shot which the Hibs keeper gathered at the second attempt. If that added to the tension already tangible around Easter Road, Luna’s opening goal for Hibs just two minutes later was equivalent to the release of a high-pressure valve. It was a memorable effort, Grant Brebner sending Ulrik Laursen clear down the left and the Dane’s pinpoint cross being thumped beyond Mark McGeown off Luna’s brow.
It was the Spaniard’s eighth goal for Hibs and his first since the 1-1 draw against Rangers at Ibrox immediately prior to Sauzee’s appointment.
It was a moment understandably savoured by the manager, who was soon able to begin enjoying his evening when his side doubled their advantage after a quarter-of-an-hour’s play. Stranraer full-back Fraser Wright barged Zitelli to the ground as the French striker sprinted into the penalty area and the referee rightly pointed to the spot. Zitelli got up to make a consummate job of the penalty, sending McGeown the wrong way and the confidence boost of the early goals allowed Hibs to exert a dominance over their part-time opponents which had been beyond them in a feckless performance in the first match.
Much of the vitality they displayed in the first half had been sparked by Zitelli, so it was a disappointment for Sauzee when his compatriot was forced to leave the action seven minutes before half-time with an apparent shoulder injury. Garry O’Connor replaced him.
Brebner, who had missed a glaring chance before the break, was replaced at the start of the second half by De la Cruz as Alen Orman was pushed into a central midfield role.
The man from Ecuador contributed to Hibs’ third goal just a minute after the restart. Luna’s persistence earned a corner on the right which De La Cruz whipped in with pace and precision and Smith rose highest in a congested penalty area to head home his first goal for Hibs, despite Wright’s desperate attempt to clear on the line.
Sauzee made his final substitution 18 minutes from time, handing Eduardo Hurtado a late opportunity to prove himself, the giant Ecuadorian frontman replacing Ulrik Laursen.
Hurtado seized the chance, putting a final flourish on proceedings when he forced home a De la Cruz corner from close range two minutes from time for his first Hibs goal.
Hibs were knocked out in the next round after a 4-1 hammering away to Rangers. Sauzee, meanwhile, was removed from his post after just 69 days in the hotseat having not won any of his 13 league matches in charge.