Hibs 1, Birmingham 0: Keatings’ cracker settles friendly

Hibs striker James Keatings scores the winner
Hibs striker James Keatings scores the winner
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James Keatings cracked home the only goal of the game as a young Hibs side outplayed English Championship outfit Birmingham City.

Keatings struck midway through the second half, rifling the ball into the roof of Tomasz Kuszczak’s net but the Easter Road side could easily have enjoyed a much greater margin of victory.

Martin Boyle saw his downward header rear up off the Easter Road turf and crash off Kuszczak’s crossbar while the goalkeeper was left helpless by a Keatings rocket from 25 yards which smacked off his left-hand post.

The victory apart, which is meaningless in the greater scheme of things, Hibs boss Neil Lennon would have been delighted with the performances he witnessed from a clutch of his kids, left back Callum Crane finding himself named man of the match.

Lennon would have surprised no-one by making changes following the exertions of his players against Brondby in Copenhagen on Thursday night, but few would have envisaged quite how extensive they would be.

Of those who began against the Danes, only Liam Fontaine retained his place, this, the penultimate Hibs pre-season friendly, giving a number of players the opportunity not only to get some game time under their belts but to catch the eye of their head coach.

There were a couple of familiar names in the Birmingham side, striker Clayton Donaldson, who was signed by John Collins, and Jonathan Grounds, who spent a short time on loan under Colin Calderwood, in what was very much the Brummies’ first team.

Former Hibs boss Alan Stubbs took a seat in the directors’ box, no doubt having made the journey north to cast an eye over Birmingham, who finished tenth in the English Championship last season, his new club due to travel to St Andrews in mid-October.

But he would also be interested as Lennon to see how a Hibs side packed with youngsters would fare in what, undoubtedly, was the toughest of the club’s friendly programme with only League One Shrewsbury Town to come this Sunday.

Although Birmingham had played a number of friendly matches before heading to Edinburgh, this was the first time boss Gary Rowett had deployed virtually his strongest side which made a couple of early mistakes a touch surprising.

Stephen Gleeson looked on anxiously as his sliced clearance from almost out of the hands of Kuszcak spiralled onto the roof of the net before three Birmingham defenders got themselves in a fankle in trying to deal with Aaron Dunsmore’s low cross before eventually getting the ball to safety.

As well as the greater experience of their visitors, Hibs also had to contend with a more physically imposing opposition, Keatings as the sole frontman confronted with the formidable barrier presented by Michael Morrison and Ryan Shotton.

Lennon, though, would have been happy with his players’ movement and desire to knock the ball around at pace as they showed composure in possession with Dan Carmichael finding little pockets in which to play in.

And it almost paid off on the half-hour mark, Carmichael playing in Keatings whose deep cross was nodded behind by Grounds.

Fontaine met Alex Harris’ corner with a powerful downward header but Kuszczak thrust out his right foot to block before Carmichael, playing off the front, fed Harris, who made space for himself on the edge of the penalty area only to scuff his right-footed shot straight at the goalkeeper.

At the other end, Otso Virtanen found himself with little to do, Jordon Forster and Fontaine snuffing out the danger of Donaldson while youngsters Dunsmore and Crane on either side of them kept a vigilant eye on Birmingham’s wide men, Viv Solomon-Otabor and Jacques Maghoma.

Donaldson, however, managed to find space between Forster and Fontaine five minutes into the second half, collecting Gleeson’s cross on his chest only to poke the ball high over the bar to waste the best opportunity his side had created thus far.

Dylan McGeouch found himself playing as a makeshift right-back having replaced Dunsmore at half-time, a position unfamiliar to him with Solomon-Otabor almost taking advantage of that fact as he sneaked in behind only to horribly screw his shot across the face of Virtanen’s goal.

Kuszczak was left flat-footed as Keatings rose, despite the height advantage of Birmingham’s central defenders, to meet Harris’ cross, his downward header scraping past the post before a powerfully struck shot from Boyle whistled inches wide.

But Hibs made the breakthrough in the 63rd minute, Crane making ground before finding Boyle, who spotted Keatings, the striker taking possession and making space for himself before fifling the ball into the net.

And it could have been two for Lennon’s side a few minutes later, Boyle, who had got through a power of work in the middle of the park, meeting Carmichael’s cross with a measured downward header which reared up off the turf and caught Kuszczak’s bar.

Keatings, too, hammered a long-range shot off the left-hand post with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot as Hibs enjoyed a period of domination before sealing the win.

Hibs (4-2-3-1): Virtanen; Dunsmore (McGeouch 46), Forster, Fontaine (Hanlon 64), Crane; Martin, Stanton; Harris, Carmichael (Cummings 72), Boyle (Insall 83); Keatings. Substitutes not used: Laidlaw, Allen.

Birmingham City (4-2-3-1): Kuszczak; Spector,, Morrison (Robinson 60), Shotton (Davis 60), Grounds; Tesche (Caddis 60), Gleeson: Solomon-Otabor (Shinnie 60), Fabrini (Vaughan 60), Maghoma (Brown 73); Donaldson (Arthur 83). Substitutes not used: Legzdins, Dacres-Cogley, Adams.

Referee: Stephen Finnie.