His squad may be regarded as threadbare, but Hibs’ new head coach Alan Stubbs still managed to give 23 players a taste of action in the Easter Road outfit’s first public outing of the summer.
Trialists Adam Buxton, released by Wigan, and former Liverpool midfielder Nathan Burke were among them as were a host of the club’s young hopefuls many of whom, you’d presume, won’t be counted as first choices when the serious business gets underway next month. So, despite the numbers on display at Vale of Leithen’s Victoria Park, there’s obviously a serious amount of recruiting to be done between now and the visit of Livingston on the opening day of the Championship season on August 9.
Stubbs has repeatedly acknowledged that fact while insisting he’s determined that quality rather than quantity will be his guideline. He has claimed, though, that his first signing, first-team coach John Doolan, will possibly turn out to be the most important he’ll make.
Doolan, who had given up a similar post with Wigan Athletic, was at Stubbs’ side, the ink barely dry on his contract and his presence gave the former Bolton, Celtic, Everton and Sunderland defender as much to smile about as the routine 4-0 demolition of their Lowland League opponents.
Hailing Doolan’s arrival, Stubbs said: “John is a very good coach. It’s a brilliant coup for the club to be able to attract someone like him, a young, up-and-coming coach with ideas with are on the same wavelength as mine. Together, hopefully, we can be very successful.”
Stubbs and Doolan, pictured, grew up together playing football on the streets of Kirkby – the latter’s own playing career cut short by injury – and have enjoyed a strong friendship spanning more than 30 years. It will, however, prove to be no “old pals act”, as Stubbs stressed, saying: “It’s a professional appointment, not a friend’s appointment and that’s important to state.
“I knew when I was to start my managerial career John was one I wanted to take because I know he is a good coach, that he’ll bring a lot of qualities to the club. He’s someone who will tell me when he thinks I am wrong, as I can tell him, but there will be no falling out.
“I think the fact he was prepared to leave a club that is potentially going to be one of the high flyers in the Championship this year and come to us tells you everything. I’m absolutely thrilled. I may not have shown it but, deep inside, it’s a massive signing for me.”
A canter in the Borders sunshine is, of course, an entirely different proposition to the rigours of the season ahead, with Hibs facing a titanic struggle to win promotion from a league also containing Capital rivals Hearts plus Rangers. However, Stubbs claimed the supporters who made up the vast majority of a crowd which will have given the cash-strapped Innerleithen club a much-needed financial boost, would hopefully have seen early signs of the style of play he’ll be demanding.
“We’ve been working hard,” he said. “It’s always nice as a player to get your first game. It’s doesn’t really make a difference who it is against, the most important thing is it’s a step towards being fit for August 9.
“You can’t take too much from the game, but I thought the attitude of the players was great. They tried to do the right things which pleased me and a lot of people will have gone away having seen something of what we want to put across.”
As expected, Hibs dominated the match from start to finish, their full-time status and the fact Stubbs was able to play an entirely different team in each half – although Jason Cummings and Danny Handling both got an hour rather than 45 minutes – eventually told on their opponents. Only a Cummings strike, the teenager expertly turning Neil Martynuik’s low cross beyond goalkeeper Ross McMullen separated the sides at half-time but, as an arguably-stronger Hibs team appeared after the interval, the match, in reality, became only a matter of ‘how many’.
Sam Stanton had already seen an effort ruled out for offside when Cummings again displayed the predatory instinct which brought him more than 30 goals for the Under-20 side last season, pouncing to knock the ball into the empty net after Stanton’s shot had been blocked.
Liam Craig, one of those who’d made a second-half appearance, waltzed through three challenges to make it 3-0 before substitute goalkeeper Mark Wilson produced two great saves, denying the Hibs midfielder a second from Alex Harris’ cross and then redeeming himself by thrusting out his left boot to divert Lewis Allan’s shot wide after he’d spilled another threatening cross from Harris.
But he was finally beaten eight minutes from time when Allan fed in Harris, who wasted no time in drilling in a low shot to complete a satisfying afternoon’s work.
Vale of Leithen: McMullen (Wilson 64), Sclater, Dickson (Tainsh 69), Elliott, Blaikie, Lynch (Dixon 69), Brady, McCulloch (Anderson 77), O’Brien, Morris (McGregor 52), Tulloch.
Hibs: Perntrou (Brennan 46), Buxton (Dunsmore 46), Gardiner (Forster 46), Nelson (Hanlon 46), Martynuik (Booth 46), Martin (Harris 46), Tudur Jones (Burke 46), Stevenson (Craig 46), Todd (Stanton 46), Handling (Crane 60, Sinclair 83), Cummings (Allan 60).
Referee: Gavin Ross