Elgin 0-2 Hibs: Paul Heckingbottom's men qualify from Betfred Cup group
It was a case of mission accomplished for Paul Heckingbottom’s Hibs side as they reached the knock-out stages of the Betfred Cup with a 2-0 win over Elgin City at Borough Briggs.
The Capital side might have got off to an unconvincing start to the group stages with a 1-1 draw with Stirling Albion, but as the matches have worn on the Easter Road side have looked more and more convincing, no doubt a result of improving fitness and of a new-look squad not only getting to know each other but the demands of their head coach.
Goals from Joe Newell - his first for the club - and Florian Kamberi, looking more and more like the striker who first arrived in Edinburgh, secured victory over Elgin and top spot in Group C.
Hibs got off to the start they wanted on their first ever visit to Borough Briggs when the Elgin defence went to sleep, waiting for a whistle which never came as Rabin Omar felled Stevie Mallan. Daryl Horgan, however, remained switched on, latching onto the loose ball and firing it across goal for Newell to turn home.
It was a clammy, muggy night in Elgin with the mercury still well above 20C at kick-off, but it was obvious Heckingbottom’s side wanted to keep the heat on their League Two opponents, Christian Doidge’s overhead kick blocked by the back of Stephen Bronsky to prevent a quick-fire double for the visitors.
Their play was quick and incisive, full of movement as they switched the ball around rapidly at a tempo which had the League Two side on their heels, goalkeeper Thomas McHale rising to tip over Kamberi’s effort as he met his fellow striker Doidge’s cross.
All Elgin could do was to ensure they had as many men behind the ball as possible, compressing the space available for their opponents, although they were finding life difficult thanks to the one-touch football Hibs were employing.
When they did enjoy a rare opportunity to get forward, they were inevitably met by the no-nonsense approach to defending which is Darren McGregor’s trademark.
Kamberi thought he’d doubled Hibs lead six minutes from the interval, prodding Doidge’s knockdown into the net at the second attempt, only to find the flag of assistant referee Dougie Ross, Elgin’s local MP, raised against him. Television pictures showed he was clearly onside.
Very much against the run of play Elgin did carve out a half-chance, Shane Sutherland’s cross carrying just too much weight as Omar stretched in vain to reach it.
Ofir Marciano had been a virtual spectator but the Hibs goalkeeper earned his wages four minutes after the restart, rising to get his fingertips to Omar’s netbound shot before, at the other end, McHale was happy to beat down a dipping Mallan effort.
No doubt relieved only to be that one goal down. Elgin were beginning to show a bit more enterprise as the rain began to fall, cooling the baking temperature and making conditions far more pleasant for those on the pitch.
Kamberi should have done better than direct his shot straight into the midriff of McHale before Mallan shook his head in disbelief as his low free-kick crept inches wide of target.
Marciano was again called into action, the Israeli internationalist getting down at the feet of Kane Hester, Hibs making the most of that escape as Kamberi latched onto Omar’s misplaced pass to drill the ball beyond McHale and the game out of Elgin’s reach to add to his goal earlier in the week against Alloa.
Mallan hammered another shot off the hands of McHale before Kamberi wildly sliced a shot high and wide as Hibs went looking to add to their tally, the Elgin goalkeeper later just managing to push a Newell shot wide.
Hibs, however, were forced to play out the final six minutes with only ten men as Martin Boyle - who had replaced Horgan on the hour mark - limped down the tunnel after picking up a knee injury when challenging for possession, no doubt a worry for the Australian, who is just back from a long period on the sidelines.
Elgin City: McHale, Wilson (Willis 77), Bronsky, McDonald, Spark, Cooper, MacEwan (O’Keefe 60) Dingwall, Omar (Loveland 88), Sutherland, Hester. Substitutes not used: Dunn, McGowan, Ballam, Scott.
Hibs: Marciano, Whittaker, McGregor, Jackson, Mackie, Horgan (Boyle 60), Mallan, Vela, Newell, Kamberi (Shaw 82), Doidge (Allan 75). Substitutes not used: Maxwell, Hanlon, James, F Murray.
Referee: Willie Collum.