Hibs kids have embarked on a teenage rampage in Europe, reminding boss Pat Fenlon to take a look at what is on his own doorstep as he continues his search for more fresh talent to rebuild his Easter Road squad.
Sam Stanton, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell, all just 18 years old, claimed all four goals as the Edinburgh club completed the first leg of their mini-European tour with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over a select side chosen from teams in the locality of Vlissingen, their seaside base in the south-west corner of Holland.
And with Caldwell having scored on the opening game of their four-match tour, the 1-1 draw with Belgian outfit Lierse SK, the youngsters have claimed all five goals netted so far as Fenlon takes his team into Germany later today to prepare for tomorrow night’s clash with Union Berlin before they head home to face Championship new boys Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
After watching Hibs go down 1-0 to another Belgian team, OH Leuven, the night before, Fenlon made no fewer than ten changes for this one, only ex-Hearts defender Alan Maybury, who continues to play as a trialist as he bids to win a contract with his former club’s greatest rivals, retaining his place, deployed in his more familiar right-back berth than the midfield role he’d occupied less than 24 hours later.
Stanton and Handling, along with goalkeeper Calum Antell, were handed their first starts for the “top team,” the youngsters playing either side of Paul Cairney in a midfield three with Leigh Griffiths operating as a lone striker while Callum Booth put in 90 minutes in a holding midfield position alongside Jorge Claros.
At the back Sean O’Hanlon was given a first run-out, the big defender having made the two long coach journeys into Belgium with stepping off the bench, partnering skipper James McPake in the centre with Pa Kujabi taking over at left back from Paul Hanlon while Ivan Sproule and Lewis Stevenson sat it out having picked up knocks the previous evening.
Given the extent of the changes made, it was little surprise Hibs looked a touch sluggish for the opening 20 minutes. But they slowly found their feet and began to knock the ball around until Claros’ inch-perfect crossfield ball found Pa Kujabi, who worked well down the left flank with Stanton throughout, the little Gambian internationalist cutting the ball back for the youngster to net at the second attempt. Two minutes later McPake almost doubled Hibs’ lead, leaping to get his head to Cairney’s corner but unable to direct the exactly where he wanted while Claros volleyed a shot well wide from the edge of the penalty area as the Easter Road side began to pin a side drawn from seven different clubs back.
Griffiths, back at Hibs for a third spell on loan from Wolves, may have found himself upstaged somewhat by his younger team-mates on this occasion but he should have had a penalty with 32 minutes, gone, the former Livingston and Dundee star clearly brought down by the opposition’s captain Gertjan van Leiden. But if the Scotland Under-21 hitman failed to find the net he could, at least, lay claim to an assist for each of Handling’s goals on either side of half-time. The first came as Griffiths cut the ball across the face of goal to provide Handling with the simplest of tap-ins and he displayed similar vision after the interval, spotting the youngster’s run and delivering a sumptuous ball over the heads of the Dutch defence. Handling did the rest, steadying himself and rifling a low shot beyond Zeeland goalkeeper Joan van Belzen.
Hibs might have had another in between those strikes, Kujabi and Handling playing a superb one-two only for the African star to drill his shot inches wide. Cairney arrived at the back post to slip the ball home only to find the offside flag raised, a tight decision.
Booth saw Van Belzen tip a powerful drive over and the Zeeland goalkeeper was in the right place to block Griffiths’ shot from Crainey’s free kick before he was replaced by Caldwell.
It took just the replacement just ten minutes to get in on the act, this time Handling turned provider as he gathered Eoin Doyle’s deep cross, drove past two defenders to the bye-line and cut the ball back for his former under-19 team-mate to place a first time shot beyond Van Belzen.
You could only imagine Antell was looking on with more than a touch of envy as Stanton, Handling and Caldwell made such an impact, the former Welsh Under-21 internationalist finding himself with hardly anything to do. Other than a momentary misunderstanding with McPake to which he reacted quickly to get down at the feet of John Schot, his only other worry came as Leiden outjumped everyone to meet Ingmar Quist’s corner to meet the ball and send a powerful header crashing off the bar. That Antell wasn’t overworked was also down to some decisive defending, McPake throwing himself in front of Schot’s effort and Handling showing he was prepared to do more than a little of the “dirty” side of the game, tracking back fully 70 yards with Maybury out of position having lent himself to a Hibs attack, and deny Schot another glimpse of goal.
Hibs (4-2-3-1): Antell; Maybury (Stephens 67), McPake, O’Hanlon, Kujabi; Claros, Booth; Handling, Cairney, Stanton (Doyle 76); Griffiths (Caldwell 70). Substitutes not used: Williams, Hanlon, Clancy, Wotherspoon.