Berwick 0, Hibs 2: Danny Handling nets in final pre-season friendly

Oli Shaw was on target again for Hibs as they defeated Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park. Pic: SNS
Oli Shaw was on target again for Hibs as they defeated Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park. Pic: SNS
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Danny Handling came in from the cold to set Hibs on their way to victory in their final pre-season friendly against Berwick Rangers, the club where, six years ago he scored seven goals in as many games.

With captain for the night Brian Graham missing a first-half penalty, the former Scotland Under-21 midfielder took advantage of a horrific mistake in the Berwick defence to slot the ball into the empty net and two minutes later Oli Shaw added a second, drilling a low shot beyond Berwick substitute goalkeeper Sean Brennan.

Blighted by injury, 23-year-old Handling hadn’t kicked a ball in anger for the Easter Road side in a year, his last Hibs first-team game against Alloa Athletic in 2015 and his last appearance in a green-and-white shirt 12 months ago in a pre-season friendly against Motherwell, a record which has put a question mark over his future with the club. He ended last season on loan at Raith Rovers and suffered the ignominy of relegation with the Kirkcaldy outfit.

At the weekend, as Neil Lennon’s players prepared to face Sunderland in Lewis Stevenson’s testimonial match, Handling was dispatched, along with Sam Stanton, to play for the club’s development squad in the Ronnie Swan Cup.

A further measure of how far down the reckoning they have fallen is the fact they both began last night’s match at Shielfield Park on the bench despite Lennon fielding a young side – seven of the starting line-up age 20 or under – as he rested most of his first-team regulars ahead of Saturday’s Betfred Cup tie against Montrose.

And included in the unfamiliar-looking starting line-up was New Zealand Under-20 player Andrew Blake, listed as a trialist as was Jermaine Pennant, featuring in this the third and final of Hibs pre-season matches, the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger having been told by Lennon that a decision as whether he would be offered a contract would be made following this game.

There was again no sign of Efe Ambrose, Lennon having revealed the Nigerian internationalist has gone AWOL and is in trouble with the club, 
while Paul Hanlon still awaits the green light to resume training.

As such, the successful partnership from last season’s development squad, Ryan Porteous and Kevin Waugh, formed the pairing in central defence, Waugh being due to join Berwick on loan for the first half of the coming season.

A mistake by Porteous offered Berwick frontman Greg Rutherford the game’s first real opening, but a glimpse of Ross Laidlaw’s goal was all he got, Waugh coming in with a tremendous covering tackle before he could pull the trigger to dig his mate out of trouble.

Hibs looked certain to make the most of that escape, Danny Swanson – back at the club where his senior career began 12 years ago – wriggling into the Berwick penalty area and inviting a tackle from Pat Scullion.

But Swanson was just took quick for him, the resulting trip leaving referee Scott Millar with no doubt it was a penalty, although the Berwick defender obviously thought otherwise.

Graham, captain for the night, stepped up but scorned the opportunity to open the scoring, blazing his effort from 12 yards high over Robbie McCrorie’s cross bar.

Neither McCrorie or Laidlaw had been seriously tested in the opening 30 minutes and they weren’t going to be troubled by the efforts of Shaw and Gary Phillips respectively.

Fraser Murray and Scott Martin had been industrious in the middle of the park for Hibs and the former burst forward to link up with Shaw, taking the striker’s return pass only for Berwick left back Chris McDonald to step in with a timely tackle.

Rutherford should have put John Coughlin’s side ahead in the 36th minute when Andrew Irving’s perfectly executed pass left him running in on Laidlaw. But the goalkeeper did well, forcing the striker wide and allowing his team-mates to get back to snuff out the danger.

Fraser Murray thought he had given Hibs the lead three minutes from the interval, his thundering shot from 25 yards beating McCrorie all ends up, only to crash back off the goalkeeper’s left hand post.

Handling and Stanton made second half appearances, replacing Swanson and Graham respectively after 57 minutes.

Pennant almost unlocked the Berwick defence with a cute reverse ball for Shaw, but Oliver Fleming stepped in to nullify the threat just as he had done at the beginning of the second half when he came across to thwart Swanson as he attempted to latch onto a deep crossfield ball from the veteran wingman.

Other than that, goalscoring opportunities were very much at a premium in the second 45 minutes, although Ben Stirling, who had replaced the injured Waugh, had to look sharp to nod Jamie Chapman’s cross behind with Aaron Murrell at his back.

There was to be a goal, though, not through any flash of inspiration but a horrible mistake at the back for Berwick. Ewan Herriot, only on the pitch for two minutes, and his goalkeeper Brennan – who was once on Hibs books – getting themselves in a terrible mess, allowing Handling to roll the ball into the empty net.

And the prolific Shaw made it two 11 minutes from the end, turning superbly at the edge of the Berwick penalty area to win himself the space to slot a low shot beyond Brennan.

Berwick Rangers: McCrorie (Brennan 46), Notman (Gillian 80), Scullion (Fairbairn 66), Fleming (Cook 76), McDonald, Stewart, McKenna (Helm 80), Irving (Murrell 46), Thomson (Orru 57), Phillips (Herriot 70), Rutherford (Chapman 66).

Hibs: Laidlaw, Blake (I Murray 82), Porteous, Waugh (Stirling 56), Crane, Pennant (Mackie 78), S Martin, F Murray, Swanson (Handling 57), Graham (Handling 57), Shaw. Substitutes not used: P Martin.

Referee: Scott Millar.

Attendance: 1206.