Hibs clocked up their fourth successive clean sheet as they comfortably saw off the challenge of League 1 new boys Stirling Albion.
Goals either side of half-time by Jordon Forster and Alex Harris were enough to earn Alan Stubbs a well-deserved victory on a sweltering afternoon at Forthbank.
Again, though, Stubbs would undoubtedly have felt the winning margin should have been greater given the domination the Capital side displayed throughout the 90 minutes.
However, the huge amount of Hibs possession wasn’t reflected in the final scoreline, although they did enjoy a moment of good fortune before the interval when Phil Johnston’s shot hit the bar of trialist goalkeeper Antoine Gounet, only for Dale Fulton to see his effort from the rebound headed off the line by Paul Hanlon.
Stubbs said: “I thought it was a very useful game. A really hot day, the pitch was sticky and the grass a bit long, so to play the way we want can sometimes be detrimental towards that. But I thought they were first class.”
There was a sizeable travelling support for the first sighting of Stubbs’ latest signing, former Falkirk striker Farid El Alagui, spearheading a three-man attack in a 4-3-3 formation, while former Brentford goalkeeper Antoine Gounet was also in the starting line-up, although he was officially named as a trialist.
In strange surroundings and with unfamiliar team-mates in front of him, Frenchman Gounet would have enjoyed his first couple of touches coming in the opening minutes, the goalkeeper confidently clutching a Johnston cross and then getting a good fist to Jim Creaney’s corner.
Thereafter, Hibs slowly but surely began to take a grip of proceedings, with both Alex Harris and Sam Stanton, who had started on the flanks, willing to come infield to get hold of the ball, although other than a couple of tame efforts by Harris and Owain Tudur Jones, they failed to trouble Albion goalkeeper Callum Reidford.
Lewis Stevenson, however, found himself having the run of the left touchline, a freedom he used to good effect in setting up El Alagui for his first attempt on target, the Moroccan shifting the little defender’s pass from right to left before dispatching a shot which flew over the bar.
Skipper Liam Craig’s corner offered Tudur Jones an opportunity, but the towering Welshman couldn’t get his header on target, although he did much better a couple of minutes later when he got on the end of another Stevenson cross and forced Reidford to take it under his crossbar.
Hibs got the goal their play deserved in the 28th minute, Craig’s deep free kick eluding Reidford to leave Forster claiming it was he who had bundled the ball over the line at the back post, although there was a suggestion Stirling’s Steven Doris had been unlucky victim of an own goal.
Stubbs had called on his players to be more ruthless in front of goal following the no-scoring draw with Dunfermline earlier in the week, a game which Hibs could easily have won by three or four goals but for a five-star display by goalkeeper Ryan Scully.
The head coach pointed out that failure to turn chances into goals was always liable to leave a side vulnerable to being hit by a sucker punch.
By half-time, Stirling could easily been on level terms. Gounet, who had nothing of note to do for much of the first period, was caught in no-man’s land having rushed to the left of his area to halt Doris’s run .
As the ball ran free, Johnston struck a shot which crashed back off the bar, leaving substitute Fulton seemingly with the easiest of opportunities to turn the ball into the empty net but Hanlon threw himself at his shot to head it off the line.
Hibs’ profligacy in front of goal was again evident seconds before the interval, Stanton left holding his head as his low shot slipped past the far post when he should have been doubling the Edinburgh club’s advantage.
Stubbs’ side were again reminded of the fragility of a one-goal lead minutes into the second half, Gounet looking for a bit more protection from referee George Salmond as Doris put him under pressure as they fought for an Ian Hamilton cross.
Gounet dropped the ball, but with the whistle the goalkeeper had obviously been expecting failing to come, Forster was forced to step in to boot clear.
Craig Wedderburn poked in a toe to concede a corner to prevent El Alagui capitalising after a shot by team-mate Stanton.
But Hibs finally pushed themselves further in front as Harris delivered a beautifully controlled shot from Craig’s cross to beat Reidford low to his left.
Mindful of this being El Alagui’s first action of the summer, Stubbs replaced him with 17-year-old Lewis Allan just before the hour mark as Danny Handling took the place of Tudur Jones.
An astute pass by Handling almost presented Hanlon with a chance to stretch Hibs’ lead even further, but Reidford read the danger, sliding out to take the ball off the defender’s feet before Forster, who had earlier seen a diving header blocked, met a Craig corner on the volley only to fire over.
Stirling were visibly tiring in the heat as the match went into its final quarter and David Gray went close with a rasping 30-yard shot which had Reidford scrambling across his line with little hope of getting to the ball.
Reidford did well to prevent Allan making it three for Hibs, the goalkeeper blocking the youngster’s angled drive as Hibs saw out the match on the front foot.
Stirling Albion: Reidford, Hamilton, Creaney (Munn 85), McClune (Fulton 32), Wedderburn, C Smith, Johnston (D Smith 46), Comrie, G Smith, Doris, Coult. Substitutes not used: Paterson, Munn, Cunningham.
Hibs: Gounet, Gray (Nelson 76), Forster, Hanlon (Gardiner 86), Stevenson (Booth 69), Robertson, Tudur Jones (Handling 58), Craig, Harris, El Alagui (Allan 58), Stanton. Substitutes not used: Perntreou.
Referee: George Salmond