Jason Cummings took just 12 seconds to find his way back to goal but Hibs were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in new boss Neil Lennon’s first game in charge at Berwick tonight.
Cummings had got the game underway and no Berwick player got a touch before he swept a low shot under goalkeeper Kevin Walker, Alex Harris and Lennon’s first signing Grant Holt having exchanged passes to carve the opening for him.
But, despite hitting the bar twice through Martin Boyle and John McGinn as they threatened to overrun the League Two outfit, Hibs were stunned as Michael McKenna fired a low shot beyond goalkeeper Mark Oxley.
Berwick may even have got their noses in front but, amid a blizzard second-half substitutions, the Capital club reimposed themselves on the game without really carving out a clear-cut chance although Holt did have one header ruled out for offside.
This was the first chance Hibs fans had to see their side in action since that momentous Scottish Cup triumph on May 21, the starting line-up at Shielfield Park containing six of those who’d faced Rangers at Hampden with another three of those heroes taking a seat on the bench.
The fact it was Lennon’s first match in charge, albeit the first of the Easter Road club’s pre-season friendlies in which gaining match fitness was more important than the result, added further interest with a fair number of supporters making the trip from Edinburgh to sate their curiosity.
Oxley started in goal despite reported interest from Southend United while there was an outing for Lennon’s first signing, Holt partnering Hibs’ top scorer for the past two seasons, Cummings, up front.
Cummings took no time at all to suggest that’s a mantle he’ll not surrender easily, the 20-year-old, on hand to sweep the ball under Berwick goalkeeper Walker after Holt and Harris had combined for the latter to supply a low cross from the left.
Having a new manager sitting on the bench provided plenty of incentive for the men in green, not least Harris, back at the club after 18 months on loan with Dundee and Queen of the South.
And the youngster was prominent in the opening quarter of an hour as Berwick found themselves pinned down inside their own half, Hibs forcing a string of corners and twice hitting the bar through Boyle and McGinn in addition to that Cummings’ strike before that period was out.
Berwick struggled to match the high intensity of the Championship side but the League Two part-timers hung on in there and got their rewards with an equaliser in the 22nd minute. Conceding from corners and set-pieces has been a problem for the Capital club for longer than many would like to care to remember and it proved to be their Achilles heel once again.
Lennon’s players failed to clear their lines properly from Steven Thomson’s corner – Berwick’s first of the game – the ball falling for McKenna 20 yards out, the midfielder hitting it first time and appearing to catch Oxley by surprise as his low shot skipped into the far corner of his net.
That fragility was exposed twice more, Oxely just managing to palm another Thomson corner over before Jonny Fairbairn glanced a header from Allan Walker’s corner from the opposite flank off the goalkeeper’s bar.
While Lennon would have been reasonably satisfied with that first-half performance, plenty of endeavour and enterprise particularly down the left flank, he’d have been unhappy to see his side troubled so much by those balls into Hibs’ penalty area.
However, with only two more matches – Edinburgh City tomorrow and Motherwell on Sunday – to come before the first leg of the Europa League tie almost certainly against Brondby, time is certainly against Lennon as he seeks not only to learn more about his players but to settle on his starting line-up and get as much game time into his squad as possible.
To that end, Lennon perhaps surprised those expecting a raft of changes at the interval by making just one in terms of outfield players, Dylan McGeouch replacing McGinn while Otso Virtanen took over from Oxley between the sticks.
The experienced Holt, who will add a different dimension in attack for Hibs, powered home a header from Harris’ cross only to be ruled offside as the Capital side began to reassert that early dominance.
Skipper David Gray, scorer of that stunning matchwinner in the cup final, almost put his side ahead, his header from Harris’ corner coming off the top of the bar.
But it was 35-year-old Holt who continued to catch the eye, the much-travelled hitman showing a great appetite for the game and displaying not only strength and power but a subtle touch and awareness of where his team-mates were positioned.
Inevitably, though, the substitutions came thick and fast, Lennon giving all 22 players who had travelled a taste of the action, including a probably unexpected run-out for Ryan Porteous, who only went full-time in Hibs academy a few weeks ago.
Hibs: Oxley (Virtanen 46), Gray (Dunsmore 81), McGregor (Porteous 81), Fontaine (Hanlon 56), Crane (Stevenson 56); Boyle (Bartley 65), Fyvie (Handling 65), McGinn (McGeouch 46), Harris; Cummings (Carmichael 65), Holt.
Berwick Rangers :K Walker (Brennan 46), Beveridge (Hamilton 60), McKinlay (Herriot 86), Wilson, Martin, Fairbairn, A Walker (Notman 67), Thomson, McKenna (Hampson 86), Lavery (Hogg 73), Sheerin (Fisher 79). Substitutes not used: Watt, Ingram.
Referee: Gavin Duncan.