Hibs cruised to victory in their first appearance on Scottish soil as goals from David Gray, Jason Cummings and Scott Allan proved far too good for Berwick Rangers.
Alan Stubbs’ players appeared to have put their seven-day training camp in the searing heat of La Manga to good use as they stepped up their preparations for the new season following a 2-1 defeat by Wigan in a bounce game to wrap up their stay in Spain.
They always looked in control, although they only had Gray’s tidy finish to show at half-time. But after the interval two goals in five minutes from Cummings and Allan killed the game as a contest and, in the final minutes, Berwick had goalkeeper Mark Walters to thank for a string of saves, preventing substitutes Sam Stanton and Alex Harris from applying a more emphatic look to the final scoreline.
Hibs are clearly better prepared than they were this time last year when Stubbs brought a threadbare squad over the border, although the head coach is keen to further strengthen his squad, particularly in the form of a defensive midfielder.
Having had to contend with temperatures nudging 30C as they faced Wigan three nights previously, Hibs found Shielfield Park somewhat cooler in this the first of three friendlies in the space of eight days, which will put the finishing touches to their pre-season preparations.
Dunfermline on Saturday will follow this foray over the border and then a trip to Ayr before the serious action begins with a visit from Rangers in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup – a repeat of last year’s draw.
And, in another touch of deja-vu Hibs, took the lead against their League 2 opponents through new skipper Gray. The defender scored a year and a day on from last summer’s 4-0 friendly win over Colin Cameron’s side when he also broke the deadlock.
Scott Allan, on whom Hibs will undoubtedly rely heavily as they bid to clinch promotion at the second time of asking, was, unsurprisingly, Hibs’ architect, the midfielder delivering a sumptuous-defence splitting pass which found Gray’s run, the right back applying a finish to match as he slotted the ball into the far corner of the net.
However, within two minutes, there was concern for Hibs, Danny Handling, one of three players who have been told by Stubbs that he’s likely to find game time limited in this coming season and that a loan deal may be the answer, appearing to land awkwardly and requiring a stretcher to take him from the pitch. Sam Stanton, another whose future is clouded with doubt, replaced him.
David Banjo, one of six trialists in the home squad, then pulled a shot wide before Allan, having remained down after a heavy challenge from the Berwick midfielder, suddenly sprang to his feet to again find Gray in space. His cutback picked out Cummings, but last season’s top-scorer in the Championship took fractionally too long in dragging the ball onto his favoured left foot and the chance was gone.
Cummings should have done better again when he rose to meet Lewis Stevenson’s cross, but his header, while carrying power, was directed straight at Walters, who managed to shovel it round the post.
His desperation to score and frustration at having failed to take either of those chances was all too evident when Stubbs’ side were awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out, the striker clearly fancying his chances but looking less than pleased as he was ushered away, leaving Paul Hanlon to fire over.
Berwick, with games against Dunfermline and Kilmarnock under their belts, were, however, proving doughty opponents, without carrying any real threat to Mark Oxley’s goal, the Hibs No.1 having only an early shot from David Morris to contend with.
Cummings went close with an effort from 25 yards which rippled the side-netting before he finally got his name on the scoresheet. The clever feet of Dominique Malonga took him deep into the penalty area, only for Walters to save at his feet. The goalkeeper, though, was a touch unlucky, the ball breaking for Allan, who immediately switched it to the unmarked teenager. He did what he does best, curling a left foot shot high beyond the helpless stopper.
Cummings turned provider five minutes later, picking out the midfielder who dropped his shoulder, came inside and guided the ball into the net.
Hibs looked as if they were coasting even although half-an-hour remained, Jonathan Quinn giving them a wake-up call with a well-judged ball which dropped between Oxley, Gray and Hanlon, allowing Morris a glimpse of goal, one he squandered by lifting his shot well over.
A last-gasp challenge by Jonny Fairbairn prevented Malonga adding a fourth for Hibs before Stubbs threw on the remaining six players from his bench, meaning that only Hanlon, Martin, Fyvie and Allan saw out the entire 90 minutes.
Walters kept the scoreline respectable as far as Berwick were concerned, although the importance of Allan to Stubbs’ plans was all too evident, the midfielder coming off with seven minutes remaining, leaving his team-mates to operate a man short with all substitutes having been used.
Berwick Rangers: Walters, Beveridge, Drummond (McNeil 46), Graham (Cameron 75), Fairbairn, Wilson (Ainslie 46), Denton (McKenna 46), Banjo, Henderson (Russell 65), Quinn (Helm 65), Morris.
Substitutes not used: Lavery, Walker.
Hibs: Oxley (Reguero 70), Gray (Dunsmore 70), Hanlon, Fontaine (Forster 70), Stevenson (Dunsmore 70), Martin, S Allan, Fyvie, Handling (Stanton 20), Cummings (L Allan 70), Malonga (Harris 70).
Referee: Brian Colvin.