Two games in, eight goals scored and none conceded. It’s a fairly impressive start for Hibs new head coach Alan Stubbs.
However, those matches against Vale of Leithen and Berwick Rangers have to be kept in context – a couple of run-outs intended purely to help condition the players for the rigours of the season ahead.
Nonetheless, winning while scoring goals and keeping clean sheets creates an aura of positivity, something that’s been missing around Easter Road for far too long now. The fans who have ventured to both fixtures will undoubtedly have gleaned an idea of how Stubbs wants his team to play, the route one football favoured by his predecessor Terry Butcher ditched in favour of keeping it on the deck and building from the back.
It’s not all going to come together immediately though, with Stubbs still striving to bring in the fresh talent necessary for the Edinburgh club to be competitive in a Championship also containing Capital rivals Hearts and Rangers. So far only one signing has been made, former Manchester United trainee David Gray, although things appear to be moving a bit more quickly off the pitch as Stubbs puts his backroom staff together, coaches Andy Holden and Alan Combe joining him in the away dug out alongside last week’s arrival John Doolan.
Formal announcements have yet to be made and while Combe’s role is obvious, to coach the club’s goalkeepers which, as yet number only the youngsters Kleton Perntreou and Sean Brennan, the part Holden, who worked with Stubbs at Everton, will play has still to be defined.
Suggesting that the 40-year-old Combe, released by Hearts at the end of last season from his coaching role at Tynecastle, could also be registered as a player, Stubbs said: “Verbally it’s been agreed, but I think he has to sign his deal. We will make an announcement in due course.
“Andy is very similar. Over the next few days we will see confirmation from the club exactly what his role will be. But from my point of view it’s great to have him here because he is going to offer great knowledge as he is someone with vast experience for me to tap into.”
As for matters on the pitch, Stubbs will be hoping future arrivals have as immediate an impact as Gray, the 26-year-old opening the scoring after just 17 minutes. The right back’s tackle on former Hibs kid David Gold – one of five in the Berwick squad with Easter Road connections – to win the ball looked a bit dubious, Gray having thrown himself into the challenge with his studs showing, but referee Brian Colvin saw nothing wrong, leaving the new boy to stride forward to beat Billy Bald with a shot which went across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net.
His goal apart, Gray’s 45 minutes were promising as he got up and down the right flank, hugging the touchline, as did Lewis Stevenson on the other side, leaving the centre-backs to “split” with midfielders Liam Craig and Scott Robertson dropping deep to take possession and initiate play from the back.
Agreeing he hadn’t brought Gray in for his goals, Stubbs said: “I’d take that all day long. If you can get a full back that chips in with a couple of goals a season then that’s an added bonus.
“I thought David’s performance was very positive considering he has not done an awful lot, I’d expect him to come on quite a bit in the next week or so. He showed good energy, although he was probably playing on enthusiasm as this was his first game. The signs were very good.”
Gray was replaced by Luke Coulson for the second half, the former Cardiff City defender playing as a trialist in a bid to impress Stubbs.
Coulson, though, could feature again tomorrow night as Hibs face Dunfermline at East End Park when Stubbs will take the opportunity to ensure those who enjoyed less game time than others at the weekend get the chance to build their match fitness. The head coach said: “It’s going to be a step up again in the calibre of team we are playing, another test, but, as I keep emphasising, we are building towards August 5 and Rangers at Ibrox. That’s the important thing.”
Apart from a short spell before the interval when Gold saw a netbound shot crash off team-mate Dean Carse, Berwick never looked like scoring. Hibs enjoyed by far the greater share of possession and in the second half, as both sides used all their substitutes, it was the Capital club which stretched away, Craig netting from the spot after reserve goalkeper Michael Andrews had pulled down Max Todd before two second half replacements Tom Gardiner and Lewis Allan made it four, a fair reflection on the superiority Stubbs’ outfit had shown against their League Two opponents.
Berwick Rangers: Bald (Andrews 46), Jacobs (R Gray 62), Hoskins, L Currie, Fairbairn, Tulloch (Miller 70), Willis (McKenzie 62), P Currie, Russell (Doyle 70), Carse (Dunn 62), Gold (Horribine 70).
Hibs: Perntreou (Brennan 67), D Gray (Coulson 46), Nelson (Gardiner 67, Hanlon (Forster 60), Stevenson (Booth 62), Todd, Robertson (Tudur Jones 60), Craig (Dunsmore 62), Stanton (McCaffrey 67), Handling (Martin 70), Cummings (Allan 46),
Referee: Brian Colvin