Hibs wrapped up their preparations for Thursday night’s Europa League visit of Brondby with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Premiership outfit Motherwell.
The Easter Road outfit overcame the shock of going behind after just three minutes, Motherwell’s Marvin Johnson crashing a spectacular free-kick in off the crossbar only for Jason Cummings, with his third goal in as many games, to equalise within 60 seconds.
From there on in, it was all Hibs, Grant Holt and John McGinn putting the home side 3-1 up at the interval with the Fir Park goal surviving a few other close calls before James Keatings added a fourth with a delightful, curling effort midway through the second half.
This result in a pre-season friendly, of course, means little in the greater scheme of things but, in terms of confidence it will have done the Capital side no harm at all knowing that in Brondby they face a side with vast European experience.
A visit from Motherwell represented a bigger test for Hibs than their midweek opponents, League Two outfits Berwick Rangers and Edinburgh City. But, having more than adequately dealt with top-flight opposition throughout last season –- Aberdeen, Dundee United, St Johnstone, Hearts and Inverness Caley all beaten – Neil Lennon’s players would have been happy for such an examination with the first leg of their tie against Brondby now only four days away.
Lennon, however, was absent, fulfilling a television contract at the final of the European Championships in Paris to which he had committed himself before succeeding Alan Stubbs as Hibs manager. That left his assistant Garry Parker in charge and, other than West Brom goalkeeper Alex Palmer – playing as a trialist – the side which started this pre-season friendly looked pretty much like that which will face the Danes.
Palmer, however, endured a painful introduction, the 19-year-old left transfixed as Motherwell midfielder Johnson stepped up to hammer in a stunning free-kick from the left of Hibs’ penalty area in the third minute which crashed down off the underside of his bar and into the net.
Hibs, though, were behind for only a minute, Lewis Stevenson’s cross finding Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon beyond the far post, the defenders between them finding Holt, who poked the ball back across goal for Cummings to knock home from three yards out. While having much to enjoy in Hibs’ play as an onlooker last season, Lennon had made the observation that at times they lacked penetration, the new boss determined that his side will get the ball into the box more quickly and more frequently.
To that end, he’ll be delighted when he sees footgae of Hibs’ second, McGinn’s perfectly-timed through ball finding Cummings, who turned it across the face of goal for Holt to slide in and claim his first goal in a green-and-white shirt.
Palmer clawed away an inswinging corner from Steven Hammell with McGinn clearing the danger before Marvin Bartley picked up a word of warning from referee Kevin Clancy but a cheer from the home fans in a sparse crowd for an over-zealous tackle on Scott McDonald, the Australian striker who had Lennon pull the plug on his potential move to Edinburgh.
But Hibs stretched their led in the 23rd minute, McGinn powering in above veteran Motherwell defender Stephen McManus to bullet a header from Stevenson’s cross into the top corner of Craig Samson’s net.
And Hibs should have been four up when Martin Boyle used his pace to get behind the Fir Park defence, turning the ball back only for Fraser Fyvie to fire wide.
Motherwell were themselves putting the finishing touches to their preparations before facing Rangers in the League Cup next weekend and boss Mark McGhee would have been a tad unhappy at what he was seeing, only a strong right hand from goalkeeper Samson preventing a fourth for Hibs after Fyvie’s pass had given Boyle the opportunity to fire in an angled, low shot. Hibs began to ring the changes after the interval and Dylan McGeouch almost made an instant impact, the midfielder stinging the palms of Samson with a vicious shot which the goalkeeper did well to beat away before McGinn was unable to get enough purchase on his header to direct Boyle’s header back across goal on target.
While primarily signed as a striker, Holt was again proving more than useful outwith the danger area, Lennon’s first signing willing to drop deep to gain possession and from there initiate further raids, Motherwell’s Richard Tait doing just enough to get a toe to one of his clever passes to prevent McGinn capitalising.
The pace may have dropped a little, but Hibs continued to dominate, a fourth goal coming in the 65th minute as McGeouch robbed Carl McHugh 25 yards out, Sam Stanton feeding the ball inside for Keatings to curl a wonderful shot past Samson and into the far side of his net.
Holt’s worth in deeper areas was highlighted again with a terrific crossfield pass to match his vision as he picked out Boyle in acres of space on the right. He had Keatings inside him but opted to go it alone, Samson getting just enough on his viciously-struck shot, the ball then creeping a tantalising few inches wide.
And, in the final minute, Samson just managed to tip over an effort from Stevenson, the goalkeeper then gratefully clutching a Keatings snapshot as it threatened to sail over his head.
Hibs: Palmer (Virtanen 62), Gray, McGregor (Crane 78), Hanlon (Fontaine 46), Stevenson, Bartley (McGeouch 46), Boyle (Martin 78), Fyvie (Stanton 52), McGinn (Carmichael 75), Cummings (Keatings 62), Holt (Handling 78). Substitutes not used: Dunsmore.
Motherwell: Samson, Tait, Hammell, Heneghen, Cadden (Lucas 78), McManus, McDonald (Moore 78), McHugh, Blythe (Ainsworth 52), Johnson (Campbell 62), Lasley (Thomas 78). Substitutes not used: Brill, McMillan, Chalmers, Kennedy, Campbell, MacLean.
Referee: Kevin Clancy