Plagued by absences to several key players, the away side lost two quick goals and were out of the contest midway through the first half. Two-nil down isn’t a foregone conclusion, but Hibs never looked like getting back into things against a superior opponent.
Excitement had been cresting following the recruitment of four new players in addition to the arrival of Chris Mueller and Dylan Tait, but with only Rocky Bushiri ready to feature at Parkhead some of that optimism is already dissipating.
A home cup game against a lower-league opponent is, therefore, quite the tonic for both players and supporters alike. A comprehensive victory could shake off the cobwebs, reinvigorate confidence and dispel any trepidation among the support. But how likely is it to happen?
Cove Rangers do represent something of a potential banana skin – even, though, with the advantage of playing at Easter Road it is more than likely Hibs will come out on top.
Saturday’s 1-0 win over then-second-place Montrose means Cove have now won a highly impressive nine straight games in all competitions, they haven’t lost since mid-October, and hold an eight-point lead over Airdrieonians in second, who hold a game in hand.
Paul Hartley, a man who needs no introduction for Edinburgh football supporters, led Cove to a third-place finish last term after winning League Two in his first season in charge.
This campaign looked a bit rocky to begin with thanks to Covid-19 issues, injuries and some new signings taken time to settle in. Since then Hartley has moulded his team into a 3-5-2 formation which brings out the best in the central midfield trio of ex-Ross County star Iain Vigurs, former Hibs Scottish Cup winner Fraser Fyvie and Cove fan-favourite Blair Yule. Vigurs provides the range of passing and ingenuity, Fyvie does the clean-up work, while Yule drives forward to support the strikers.
Speaking of forwards, Cove have one of the best in Scotland outside the Premiership. Mitch Megginson has scored regularly for the Aberdeen side since their Highland League days and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as they rise through the divisions. The club captain has 16 goals in 29 appearances and makes up a devastating partnership with lower-league stalwart Rory McAllister, who has struck 16 goals himself this term.
Hartley will likely stick with the 3-5-2, though wing-backs Shay Logan and the impressive Harry Milne will be expected to drop back a bit more than usual and make it a back five. Cove were notably naive in their fourth-round exit to Rangers last season, where they tried too often to play it out from the back and should heed the lessons of that defeat.
Even if Cove sit back and look to defend their box they have had a habit of shipping goals from set-pieces in the recent past. For Hibs, it might be the ideal time to reintroduce Christian Doidge to the starting XI with his aerial presence.
Maloney’s men are the much stronger side and, especially at home, should get a comfortable victory. However, they cannot rest on their laurels against what is essentially a second-tier club in waiting. Cove have the ability to punish any sloppiness.