ALAN STUBBS today insisted Hibs are ready for Rangers at Ibrox on Tuesday despite having watched them complete their pre-season campaign with a no-scoring draw against League Two side East Fife.
It was the third time in six matches that the Easter Road club had fired blanks and although they scored ten in those games, the head coach again admitted he’d love to see his side create more goal-scoring opportunities. On the flip side, half of those matches had ended with a Hibs clean sheet.
The Capital outfit twice hit the woodwork at Bayview through teenager Callum Crane and skipper Liam Craig, one of five second-half substitutes, but again couldn’t make their extra possession count.
Stubbs believes the delayed Petrofac Training Cup tie in Govan probably played on his players’ minds.
He said: “Sometimes when you have a big game coming up, you protect yourself, you get through the game and do just enough. I felt that was how it was. In the first half we were a bit lethargic and slow in the tempo of our passing but I can understand why.
“The most important thing is that we have come through unscathed, there’s no injuries and everybody is fit. Without saying so before the game that was my main priority. We have managed to do that and the lads are all up to a similar number of minutes on the pitch. We are ready for Tuesday night.”
Stubbs had told his players this, the last of their six pre-season matches, was their final chance to catch his eye ahead of the clash with Rangers and, to that end, several of those likely to be Stubbs’ plans for the trip to Govan were on the bench last night.
Stubbs’ two newest recruits, goalkeeper Mark Oxley and midfielder Scott Allan, both started, along with former Newcastle United player Michael Richardson, who made his second trialist appearance for the club, although he didn’t do enough to convince Stubbs to extend his stay in Edinburgh any longer.
A trio of teenagers also made the starting line-up, with Aaron Dunsmore and Callum Crane on the flanks of a midfield five and Lewis Allan partnering Farid El Alagui up-front as the head coach began with a 3-5-2 formation.
There were a few familiar faces in the East Fife line-up, with Fraser Mullen, Scott Smith and Ewan Moyes all boasting Easter Road connections, while Jamie Beaton, one of a number of youngsters released by HIbs at the end of last season, was among the home side’s substitutes.
The hard graft which has been put in at East Mains over the past few weeks was evident from the start, as Hibs penned their League Two opponents into their own half with their slick passing.
A perfect touch from El Alagui gave his strike partner Allan the first sight of goal, but the burly youngster was forced wide by goalkeeper Allan Fleming, who managed to block his eventual shot.
Seconds later Richardson led a charge from the halfway line, but, with Lewis Allan to his right and El Alagui to his left and only two defenders in front of him, the midfielder delayed his pass, by which time El Alagui had strayed offside.
Hibs, prompted by the industrious Scott Allan in the middle of the park, continued to press without quite managing to deliver that telling final pass. Lewis Allan almost did the trick, rifling in a right-foot shot from El Alagui’s lay-off following a superb ball from the former West Brom star, but his effort flew inches over.
Neat, accurate passing was the order of the day from Hibs, but they weren’t afraid to mix it up, Scott Allan was going through his full repertoire of feints and twists, while Jordon Forster sprayed some pinpoint crossfield balls for Dunsmore as he stretched the Fifers on their right flank.
Stubbs’ men, however, had nothing to show for their efforts at half-time, the head coach a little disappointed that they hadn’t worked Fleming much more. “I would like us to convert the possession we have had in games into more chances,” he said.
“It’s great we are keeping clean sheets but I think we can do better in the final third. We got ourselves into decent positions but there was not the quality on the crosses that warranted the possession we had.”
Fleming may have been a trifle surprised at how little he had to do, but his half-time replacement Dylan Rooney soon had his hands warmed, the replacement goalkeeper beating away a powerful shot from Callum Booth.
Seconds after replacing Richardson, club skipper Liam Craig sent a shot whistling just off target, while Mullen did likewise at the other end with a well-struck free-kick.
Crane went closest of all, with the youngster sending in a cushioned shot from a headed clearance only to see the ball come back off Rooney’s right-hand post.
Hibs hit the woodwork for a second time 15 minutes from time, Craig stealing in to meet Alex Harris’ inviting cross to deliver a precise header which crashed off Rooney’s crossbar with the little goalkeeper well beaten.
In the dying seconds of the game, striker Paul Heffernan, making his first appearance in pre-season, was presented with a glorious opportunity to win it as Callum Booth fired in an inviting cross.
The Irishman’s sense of direction was lacking, however, and he managed to send a glancing header wide.
While it would have been nice to have ended on a winning note, Stubbs was adamant pre-season had served its purpose. He said: “We’ve had a really good six weeks. We’ve worked out each other, found out what we are all about.
“It’s been a little bit of soul-searching early on, judging them from a fitness point of view and the players have worked really hard to get to where they are today.
“We’ll have the open day at the ground today, put on a session for the fans, train tomorrow and then have a few days to prepare for Ibrox. I can’t wait, I really can’t.”
East Fife: Fleming (Rooney 46), Mullen (Wooley 79), S Smith, S Campbell, Moyes (Naysmith 46), Walker (Beaton 62), Cook (Barr 46), Brown (Maskrey 62), Austin (McShane 70), R Campbell, K Smith.
Hibs: Oxley, Forster (Hanlon 46), Nelson, Booth, Dunsmore, Richardson (Craig 58), Tudur Jones, S Allan (Harris 70), El Alagui (Handling 46), L Allan (Heffernan 66).
Substitutes not used: Perntreou, Stevenson, Robertson, Gardiner, Gray.
Referee: Callum Murray.