Hibs 0, Middlesbrough 2: Kevin Nisbet returns and kids get chance but same problems remain
Second-half goals by Chuba Akpom and Sonny Finch gave Middlesbrough a 2-0 victory over Hibs in Saturday’s mid-season friendly match at Easter Road.
Ryan Giles was the provider for both goals, Akpom stooping to head in the on-loan Wolves man’s cross on 62 minutes before Finch bundled in another centre four minutes later.
Kevin Nisbet returned to the starting line-up for Hibs, making his first appearance since the goalless cinch Premiership draw with Celtic on February 27. The Scotland striker was unable to find the net but looked sharp considering his lengthy lay-off. His clever flick set up Harry McKirdy for Hibs’ first real chance, but the forward’s powerfully-struck effort was fielded comfortably by goalkeeper Luke Daniels.
Pharrell Willis had the first sight of goal for the visitors but blazed well over while former Easter Road loanee Duncan Watmore bustled around the final third on his return to the Capital. Just after the half-hour mark Chris Cadden picked out the unmarked Élie Youan with a sumptuous cross but despite the Frenchman having time to take a touch, he opted for an acrobatic attempt that cleared the crossbar by a considerable distance.
With Martin Boyle sidelined for the remainder of the campaign, Mitchell took his spot in the first half and linked up well with Cadden on the right flank, putting in a number of crosses and using his pace to good effect as he played the opening 45 but Hibs still lack something in the final third, with neither Boro ‘keeper particularly busy. At the other end, David Marshall did well to keep out a Caolan Boyd-Munce effort on the stroke of half-time.
Johnson made seven changes at the interval, introducing Kanayo Megwa, Paul Hanlon, Ewan Henderson, Nohan Kenneh, Marijan Čabraja, Jair Tavares, and Elias Melkersen for Cadden, Rocky Bushiri, Joe Newell, Lewis Stevenson, Mitchell, McKirdy, and Nisbet and two of the replacements came close to combining shortly after the restart as Čabraja floated a ball over the top of the Boro defence that Melkersen wasn’t too far away from reaching.
Liam Roberts was then at full stretch to tip over a speculative effort by Tavares from an acute angle and the Portuguese winger should have had Hibs in front minutes later when he was left all alone at the back post but his header from Élie Youan’s cross was into the side-netting with Roberts stranded.
Henderson then tested Roberts again from 20 yards, the Boro ‘keeper at full stretch to tip away the effort for a corner as Hibs continued to look lively in the opening exchanges. But the concession of two quick-fire but avoidable goals shortly after the hour mark consigned the hosts to a defeat.
Concerning for Johnson was the similarity between both goals: a cross into the box from the left flank that the defence failed to deal with, and the striker was able to convert from close range – Akpom heading home the first Giles cross, and Finch bundling in the second, with Roberts beating away a Henderson free kick in between goals.
Roberts nearly blundered when he left the penalty area to clear a loose ball and missed it completely, but half-time replacement for Boro Jack Hannah was on hand to mop up.