HIBS’ 3-0 win over Berwick Rangers was intended as a chance for Hibs fans to welcome back Ivan Sproule and Garry O’Connor, along with a first glimpse of the summer’s third signing, Sean O’Hanlon.
Instead, all eyes were on the away dug-out, straining for a glimpse of Hibs’ in-demand manager Colin Calderwood, who is being courted by Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest.
The two Championship sides want the 46-year-old for the same reason, to be assistant to Chris Hughton and Steve McClaren respectively, in a saga which is now dragging into a third week, with little sign that it is going to be resolved soon.
Calderwood was in Berwick, standing calmly, aware every camera lens was pointed in his direction, as he watched his players warm-up in the summer sunshine and then scrutinised events throughout the 90 minutes from the edge of his technical area as Hibs notched up a comfortable victory.
As far as the match went, it was one of those routine, unremarkable pre-season friendlies between two teams from different divisions, the side from the lower division putting up a decent performance – as Third Division Berwick most certainly did – before succumbing to their more illustrious opponents.
Of far greater interest, however, was Calderwood himself, although the former Scotland defender wasn’t up for discussing his future. Two brief after-match interviews and he was gone, departing in the same fashion as he had arrived, not on the team bus but in his own car. Destination unknown.
The first interview, for television, saw Calderwood become decidedly tetchy as he was quizzed over his intentions. The second, with the written media, was conducted following a warning from Hibs’ PR man – having detected the manager’s irritation at being asked about his future – that only questions on the game itself would be countenanced.
“Nothing dramatic,” was his summation, succinct and accurate but, of course, it was events off the park which were preoccupying the minds. Birmingham are said to have had a £300,000 compensation offer knocked back, while Forest, having initially been warned off asking permission to speak to the Hibs boss, have also reportedly entered the fray.
On that subject Calderwood was most reticent, insisting: “That’s not an important thing at the minute. You’re [supposed to be] asking me about the game, that’s the reason I did the interview.”
Not important? Forgive me, but the future of the club’s manager, the man who carries the weight of the hopes, dreams and expectations of every single Hibs fan on his shoulders, is of paramount importance. Particularly with the new season less than three weeks away with supporters looking for reassurance that the coming campaign will produce a better – much better – outcome than last season’s lowly tenth place finish, not to mention a Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Ayr Utd.
Instead, all they hear from the manager, who waxed lyrical a few days ago about ambition and options, those now famous two bags of sweets which he seems to still be salivating over, is silence.
Hibs fans do recognise their club is famed for conducting its business away from the glare of publicity, but they are becoming increasingly frustrated and exasperated, left to rely on what is purported to being said in Birmingham and Nottingham for guidance.
Perhaps it has been forgotten, but these are the people who ultimately pay not only the wages of Calderwood but his players and everyone else at Easter Road. Their loyalty may be sorely tested but it will never waver, they will be there every week regardless.
Surely they deserve better than the rigid stance of “no comment” which has emanated from within Easter Road. Is the manager staying or is he going? To many, it appears Hibs have been left gripped by inertia, a situation which is hardly conducive to selling season tickets.
The matter cannot be allowed to continue to fester, it needs to be brought to a head and the sooner the better.
Whether Calderwood will be in the away dug-out in Livingston tomorrow night remains to be seen. One thing is sure, though: the Hibs support will again be there in numbers as the squad continue to build their match fitness,
Calderwood took the opportunity in Berwick to field no fewer than 21 players. Unfortunately O’Hanlon wasn’t among them, the former MK Dons defender having picked up a knock in a closed-doors match against Morton – scoring with a towering header in a 5-2 win – as did goalkeeper Mark Brown. His absence saw an earlier than expected return for Graham Stack, pictured left, who showed no worries after major shoulder surgery.
By the time Stack departed in the second half, Hibs were two goals to the good, O’Connor netting from the penalty spot after a perfectly-timed pass from Sproule had sprung Berwick’s offside trap, the striker using his experience to win the spot-kick under Andy McNeil’s challenge.
The goalkeeper was again left helpless as Victor Palsson’s rising shot took a nick off Chris Townsley and Akpo Sodje completed the win as he rounded McNeil to notch Hibs third.
Berwick Rangers: McNeil; Walker (McLean 73), McLeod, Townsley (Campbell 82), Deland; McLaren (Maxwell 64), P Currie (Gillan 78), Greenhill (Smith 64), L Currie, Ponton (McDonald 64); Gray (Graham 73).
Hibernian (first half): Stack; Taggart, Stephens, Murray, Booth; Wotherspoon, Thornhill, Horner, Stevenson; O’Connor, Sproule.
Hibernian (second half): Stack (Antell 64); Hart, Hanlon, Stephens (Horner 78), Smith; Crawford, Palsson, De Graaf, Scott; Crawford, Sodje.
Referee: Calum Murray.