HIBS’ big mantra this pre-season has been all about the club showing bottle. Adorning a new, bottle green kit, manager Pat Fenlon has made no secret of his desire to assemble a stronger, braver side for the upcoming season.
In the Easter Road club’s final friendly before the campaign begins at Dundee United on Sunday, his team showed exactly what he’s looking for.
Because after 20 minutes of this match with English Championship side Huddersfield Town, Hibs looked in trouble. The Yorkshiremen had cruised into a 2-0 lead and to be honest, many of the 4000-strong crowd were wondering how many they’d go on to score. It was testament to Hibs that they rallied, reorganised and battled back to earn a 2-2 draw.
Leigh Griffiths and Ivan Sproule were the Hibs marksmen, cancelling out strikes from Lee Novak and Sean Scannell. The match, as far as friendlies go, was exciting and intriguing, as two honest teams produced a decent showing.
The last match of pre-season normally give an indication of a manager’s starting XI and, lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, it fairly clear how Fenlon will pick his side for the trip to Tannadice.
Ben Williams had a solid game in goal and looks an assured No. 1. He had little chance with either Huddersfield goal and was vocal, confident and made two early smart stops to keep the score, at that point, respectable.
David Stephens was paired again alongside James McPake in the centre of defence, allowing Paul Hanlon to slot in at left back. He and Tim Clancy at right back were both solid enough, although Stephens looked a bit cumbersome at both Huddersfield goals before improving.
Jorge Claros and Lewis Stevenson protected the defence in sitting roles while Eoin Doyle and Sproule hugged the left and right touchlines respectively. David Wotherspoon moved into the No. 10 role behind Griffiths – his favoured position – and did a decent job in linking up attacking moves.
Huddersfield, fresh from their promotion to the second flight of English football, started the sharper of the two teams. Scotland striker Jordan Rhodes had a quiet game, if truth be told, but he was still menacing enough to set up the opener. A long ball caught McPake and Stephens on their heels, and Rhodes drew out Williams before slipping in Novak, who passed the ball into the empty net.
That was only after 12 minutes and worse was to follow three minutes later. Irritatingly for Fenlon, the goal came from a Hibs attack. Sproule lost the ball down the right flank after failing to spot Clancy in support and former Dundee United left-back Paul Dixon pinged the ball forward to Scannell, who left Stephens for dead before slotting past Williams.
Hibs, though, kept at it. Their ball retention improved as the half wore on and some neat work from Hanlon found Wotherspoon in space, and he clipped the ball to Grifffiths on the penalty spot, who emphatically rammed the ball home.
The hosts’ tails were then up, with Wotherspoon and Griffiths looking lively. It took them, however, until the 63rd minute to restore parity, although the goal was worth the wait. Griffiths volleyed the ball to the right channel, setting Sproule free. The Ulsterman turned Callum Woods inside out before curling in a rasping strike beyond former Hibs keeper Nick Colgan.
The match then descended into the usual litany of subsitutes, Paul Cairney being the pick of the bunch. He was tidy in possession, not scared to take a player on and fierce in the tackle. Trialists Alan Maybury and Mark Kerr were also handed chances to impress in the second period, but Cairney is perhaps the only player who may force his way into a starting XI who showed enough grit to merit their berths on Tayside next weekend.
Hibs (4-2-3-1): Williams; Clancy, Stephens, McPake, Hanlon (Maybury 60); Stevenson, Claros (Kerr, 45); Sproule (Handling 74), Wotherspoon, Doyle; Griffiths (Caldwell 80): Unused subs: Antell, Booth, Smith, O’Hanlon, Kujabi, Stanton