Neil Lennon didn’t hang around Prestonfield long enough to share his thoughts with anyone. But the constant pursing of his lips and exasperated looks throughout the 90 minutes probably spoke volumes of how he felt about
Hibs’ performance as they got back into the swing of things with a 2-0 win over Linlithgow Rose.
A second-half double from substitute Danny Swanson secured the victory in this, the first of three public outings before the Easter Road outfit begin what they hope will be an extended Europa League adventure when they host NSI Runavik, the minnows from the Faroe Islands, on Thursday week
Lennon’s mood appeared to contrast sharply with the sun-soaked afternoon the 2200 crowd enjoyed, the Hibs boss seen slapping on the Factor 50 as he took his place in the away dug-out. However, if the display he had witnessed was far from those free-flowing performances which took the Capital club into fourth place on their return to the Premiership, it was totally understandable.
Yes, Hibs were at full-strength against a make-shift Linlithgow side which had, at the heart of its defence, Luke Whelan, who had only returned from holiday the night before and John Ovenstone, who pulled on his boots for the first time in nine months and had to quit early to make his shift as a firefighter in Glenrothes. But rarely does a team hit its stride immediately, games such as this designed to put a final shine on things following day after day of punishing double sessions which leave the legs feeling heavy. Lennon’s squad were back out at East Mains today doing exactly the same, Wednesday night’s trip to Berwick providing another welcome break in the routine as will Paul Hanlon’s testimonial against Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.
If things perhaps didn’t quite click in the way Lennon had hoped on a pitch baked hard by days of sun despite the local firefighters lending Linlithgow a hand by spending an hour pouring gallons on water on to it, there were, though, a number of positives for him to take.
While it was obvious up front it might take time for Florian Kamberi and Simon Murray to strike the sort of partnership the Swiss striker enjoyed with Jamie Maclaren as they plundered 17 goals between them in the second half of the season, John McGinn showed no signs of an season extended by international duty with Scotland in Peru and Mexico having exacted any toll on the midfielder.
Right from the start, McGinn embarked on those trademark lung-bursting runs interspersed by raking, searching passes both forward and across the park while Vykintas Slivka, the Lithuanian very much a peripheral figure in his first season in Edinburgh but the scorer of vital winners against Rangers and Celtic, looked assured and confident at his team-mate’s side.
Whether it was Prestonfield, Celtic Park or the San Siro would matter little to Efe Ambrose, the defender solid at the back but willing as ever to amble forward while club captain David Gray made his first public appearance since rupturing his Achilles tendon during the club’s winter break in Portugal in January.
And it was Gray who had a hand in both goals, his one-two with Swanson – another who didn’t figure as much as he’d probably have hoped having signed for his boyhood heroes last summer – allowing his team-mate to open the scoring, lashing a terrific shot across Linlithgow goalkeeper Gary Maley and into the far side of his net.
Then Gray launched a telling ball into the inside right channel for Oli Shaw to turn inside for Swanson to steer first time past substitute goalkeeper Matthew Kerr. Gray said: “Games like this are important. The manager has been brilliant in terms of putting us through our paces and really getting us ready for the big games coming up. Nobody enjoys doing the running, but you know you’ll get your rewards when the season comes.
“It’s all about fitness, getting rid of the rustiness so it was a good exercise.”
Linlithgow boss Mark Bradley certainly felt likewise, his squad having reported back early for pre-season training while, he admitted, he’d had to call in a few favours from former players who jumped at the chance to take part against Premiership opposition as the Rosey Posey prepare to abandon the Junior ranks and join the SPFL’s pyramid system by joining the East of Scotland League this season.
The former Hearts player said: “You are not expected to win but no-one wants to get embarrassed but our attitude was first-class. They were buzzing to be playing against a team of that calibre – they’d come back to train unpaid. I had a make-shift back four. Luke had just come back from holiday, John hadn’t played for nine months, my right-back was on the left and we had a central midfielder at right-back. When you look at that, it was a bit worrying but they were magnificent. To turn in a performance like that against a team which is, arguably, the second or third best in Scotland, is a credit to every one of them.”
Linlithgow Rose: Maley (Kerr 65), Batchelor, I Gray (Strickland 82), Whelan, Ovenstone (Borris 65), D Smith (Urquhart 59), Ronald (Shields 64), Ruari MacLennan, Watt, Coyne, Roddy MacLennan.
Hibs: Laidlaw, Ambrose, McGregor, Hanlon, Whittaker (D Gray 46), Bartley (S Martin 72), Slivka, McGinn (Swanson 46), Stevenson (Mackie 62), Kamberi (Shaw 46), S Murray (Boyle 62). Sub not used: P Martin
Referee: Kyle Hall