Colin calderwood predicted a cup shock somewhere with many suggesting he wouldn’t have far to look with Easter Road being eyed as the backdrop for a giant-killing act which would heap more pressure on both him and his players.
The 386 visiting Berwick Rangers fans certainly thought so, taunting the Hibs boss with chants of “you’ll be sacked in the morning.” But by the end of this Scottish Communities League Cup second-round clash they’d been silenced, the SPL outfit having swatted aside their Third Division opponents without too much difficulty.
But while it was the sort of scoreline which rarely earns the “big club” many plaudits, Calderwood’s players deserved credit for taking care of a potentially tricky encounter given the troubles the Edinburgh side have encountered so far this season.
Well aware of the sort of headlines being readied should they fail, they simply gritted their teeth, rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job of ensuring those seeking a perverse pleasure in seeing them being toppled were left disappointed.
Yes, there were a couple of minor scares along the way but over the course of the 90 minutes the gulf between the top and bottom tiers was all too evident, Berwick departing grateful not to have fallen victim to an even heavier defeat.
In all, Hibs managed some 21 shots on Jamie Barclay’s goal, striking the woodwork twice in addition to the five they scored while striker Akpo Sodje, making his first start of the season, was probably left reflecting that, had he been fully up to speed, then he’d most likely have claimed five for himself rather than just the one he ended up with.
Sodje should have already opened the scoring before Martin Scott did so, crashing a shot from 25 yards beyond Barclay after just 11 minutes, his first goal for Hibs calming the nerves and lessening the notion some Berwick players had voiced that this might just be their night.
Sodje was only inches away from making it two as he just failed to make contact with Callum Booth’s low shot across goal before former Hibs kid Lee Currie cracked the ball off Barclay’s right-hand post as he attempted to clear Ivan Sproule’s cross.
There was an eagerness and an energy about Hibs which had Berwick toiling, Garry O’Connor epitomising the home side’s effort as he willingly dropped off the front to link play, setting up that early Sodje chance and then creating another with, on this occasion, his team-mate making no mistake this time as he drilled the ball into the far corner.
Two goals up at half-time quickly became four with less than an hour played, O’Connor scoring for the fourth game in succession as he came in behind Sodje to meet Sproule’s inviting cross to power home a header before Scott got his second of the game. At this point Hibs were threatening to simply over-run Berwick, 19-year-old Scott Smith, a replacement for Booth at half-time, enjoying his competitive debut not only with a string of superb crosses but with the confidence to step forward and unleash a shot which Barclay just managed to push onto his crossbar.
Another Smith cross should have been turned home at the back post by Sodje who later showed great presence of mind to intercept Steven Thompson’s back pass only to spoil the moment by going for goal himself rather than pass for the handily placed David Crawford.
Scott was denied his hat-trick as Barclay tipped an angled drive over, the goalkeeper supplying the same touch to a Sean O’Hanlon header. But Sproule claimed his first goal since returning to Hibs three minutes from time to complete a satisfactory night’s work.
Amid it all, though, there was a sloppy ten minutes from Hibs in which Paul Currie forced Hibs goalkeeper Mark Brown into serious action for the first time before blasting Berwick’s best chance for a consolation goal high over the bar from only ten yards out while substitute Darren Gribben wasted another opportunity to work Brown.
“Our passing was a bit too elaborate for periods in the second half,” explained Calderwood. “The education is that the simple things are really the effective things.”
Overall, though, Calderwood was delighted with the way his players had bounced back from the disappointment of gifting St Mirren victory at the weekend saying: “We did okay. It’s a positive result, it was good to come back and show the confidence the players did.
“There was some good energy in the team and that’s what we wanted to see irrespective of how the score went. There’s nothing to pat ourselves on the back about but great credit is due to them [the players]. They deserved the scoreline and the style of play is where we want to get to. Scott Smith was excellent when he came on, he produced cross after cross and when people see that quality come in we will get more chances.”
As pleasing as the result was, Calderwood, having seen his early-season plans disrupted by injury, admitted a secondary bonus was seeing Sodje, Sean O’Hanlon and Scott get some much-needed game time.
It was Scott’s first competitive start since the much-publicised training ground bust-up which left team-mate Sean Welsh needing surgery for a broken cheekbone, O’Hanlon’s return from a broken toe and also a first start for Sodje since he suffered medial knee ligament damage in pre-season.
Calderwood said: “It’s been very stop-start for Jimmy [Scott]. There was that incident then he needed stitches in a gash at Blackpool which kept him out for three weeks and the knock at Livingston which put him out for a fortnight.
“You could see both Akpo and Sean tire as did Isaiah Osbourne on Saturday so they will really benefit from the game time.”
The victory and the manner in which is was achieved was timely given the first Edinburgh derby of the season at Tynecastle comes on Sunday, a match which will be an entirely different proposition but, as Calderwood insisted: “There’s no detriment in doing what we have done.
“We’ve three games this week, we lost the first one, won the middle one and if we win the last one then it will have been a good week.
“We don’t go into matches looking to take a point, we want to go and win. If we do that then it will right some wrongs.”