It wasn’t quite a tale of trains, planes and automobiles, but Hibs clocked up plenty of miles over the course of the past week, playing four games in three different countries in the space of just seven days.
No doubt Pat Fenlon’s boys would be happy to catch sight of home today having prepared for the coming season with matches in Belgium, Holland and, finally, in Germany. Now just 90 minutes remain for Fenlon to fine-tune his side, Saturday’s friendly at Easter Road against English Championship new boys Huddersfield Town, before we can tell if it was all worthwhile.
Everyone in the travelling party got some degree of action some, understandably, more than others with the evidence being from last night’s 2-0 defeat to Union Berlin in the woodland setting of the Stadion An Der Alten Forsterei that Fenlon has not only settled on his formation, his teams having stuck rigidly to a 4-2-3-1, but, give or take one or two positions, his starting line-up for the opening SPL clash against Dundee United at Tannadice a week on Sunday.
A back four of Tim Clancy, David Stephens, James McPake and Paul Hanlon with Jorge Claros and Lewis Stevenson operating as holding midfielders behind the trio of Ivan Sproule, David Wotherspoon and Eoin Doyle leaving Leigh Griffiths would appear to be it.
New signing Paul Cairney will, of course, come into the equation although the former Partick Thistle midfielder appears to require a little more match fitness but he will be required to fight his way into Fenlon’s plans as will, on the evidence of the past few days, the likes of Pa Kujabi, Callum Booth and Sean O’Hanlon.
Alan Maybury, too, would give Fenlon a further option should the former Hearts star, who has featured in all five of Hibs’ pre-season matches to date, earn himself a contract but beyond these guys, it’s a case of which of the youngsters who made the trip can make the breakthrough.
Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Sam Stanton, three 18-year-olds, between them claimed the five goals scored and did their chances no harm at all but it’s obvious to one and all that they are more likely to be “fed” into the team when the opportunity arises rather than having the responsibility of restoring a bit of pride following two bitterly disappointing seasons thrust on to their young shoulders.
As a Bundesliga 2 side Union Berlin offered, at first look, the stiffest opposition of the tour, the level the German outfit play being likened to the Championship, a comparison which the small band of Hibs fans who made their way to Berlin will be able to judge this weekend.
And over the course of the 90 minutes the Germans certainly lived up to that billing, deservedly winning and while they may claim the margin of victory might have been greater, Hibs had a gripe that their second goal, scored deep into added time, carried more than a hint of offside.
The final result, of course, matters little in the greater scheme of things and Fenlon would be able to reflect today that although Union Berlin proved to be the better side, his own team appear to be settling into the way he wants them to play and are intent on passing the ball on the deck.
With the mercury in Berlin having nudged 28 degrees Celsius, the sun was still blazing down at kick-off and at pitch level it was sweltering, a touch of summer at last, but both sides produced a match to entertain the 4,800 fans who, despite one side of their stadium demolished to make way for a new stand, still managed to create an atmosphere which belied the game’s status as a friendly.
Although Hibs were to “grow” into the first half, Fenlon may be a little concerned that once again it was a slow start from his side – although that may be down to the fact that training sessions have been taking place on matchday, something that doesn’t happen when the serious business gets underway.
As a consequence, goalkeeper Ben Williams had to watch closely as a Tijani Belaid free-kick zipped across the face of his goal and out at the far post before Union Berlin were shouting loudly for a penalty, Simon Terodde going to ground in the scramble to clear Cristop Menz’s first-time ball across the area.
But Hibs kept their cool and began to turn up the heat on the hosts, Leigh Griffiths forcing goalkeeper Jan Glinker into two notable saves in the space of 30 seconds. His first effort came courtesy of a terrific through ball from Lewis Stevenson, Glinker rising high to his right to turn Griffiths’ shot aside and throwing himself to almost exactly the same spot to divert a second, deflected, attempt from the on-loan Wolves man.
Both sides would have welcomed the sight of the sun going down as they returned for the second half. Although the temperature didn’t noticeably decrease, just five minutes after the restart the hosts made their pressure count, the towering Michael Parensen outjumping everyone to place a header from Patrick Kohlman beyond the despairing dive of Williams and thereafter it looked only a question of how many.
A combination of competent goalkeeping from Williams, goal-saving blocks from skipper James McPake and David Stephens allied to a string of missed chances from the home side kept Hibs in it and they had a half-chance to equalise when Pa Kujabi swung over a cross for his fellow substitute Ross Caldwell. On this occasion, though, the 18-year-old’s well-measured header was easily taken by Glinker.
Last summer Union Berlin beat Hearts 3-0 on this ground and just as those few Hibs fans were possibly claiming some sort of moral victory, they found their side two goals down.
As always on these occasions, both sides had made a string of substitutions and during the time added on for those stoppages, Union Berlin worked the ball to the byline for Quiring to knock into the empty net from a couple of yards out. Tough on Hibs but no more than the slick German side deserved.
Hibs:Williams;Clancy,McPake, Stephens, Hanlon (Kujabi 75); Claros (Maybury 70), Stevenson; Sproule (Handling 86), Wotherspoon (Booth 86), Doyle (Cairney 82); Griffiths (Caldwell 70). Substitutes not used: Antell, O’Hanlon, Stanton.
Referee: Daniel Siebert.