IT WAS almost exactly a year since Hibs were last in Methil to face East Fife, but this trip across the Forth served to highlight the upheaval which has taken place within Easter Road over the past 12 months.
There was, of course, a new man in the away dug-out, Pat Fenlon having moved in after Colin Calderwood was sacked last autumn. But it was out there on the pitch of the Second Division outfit’s trim little ground that the changes wreaked were brought home.
Only two of those who lined up at the start of last summer’s match, Lewis Stevenson and David Wotherspoon, did so this time round, although five of the substitutes that day were to feature this time round to a greater or lesser degree, namely Ivan Sproule and Paul Hanlon with Callum Booth and young goalkeeper Calum Antell again beginning the match on the bench.
Long gone were the likes of Edwin de Graaf, Victor Palsson and Matt Thornhill, scorer of two of Hibs’ three goals way back then, while Garry O’Connor has become a more recent departure and Mark Brown continues to swither over a new contract offer. Not to mention a list, almost too long to mention, of others who have come and gone since.
However, few of those who had ventured into Fife from Edinburgh for this hastily-arranged pre-season friendly probably didn’t pay too much thought to bygone days, they were there in the hope of seeing one or two, if not all, of Fenlon’s four summer signings to date. On that score they weren’t disappointed, Ben Williams, Tim Clancy, the returning James McPake and Paul Cairney all lining up to face Gordon Durie’s outfit.
And, as the match wore on there were glimpses, too, of what the club’s own renowned youth system is all about with home-grown talents Ross Caldwell, Harry Monaghan, Danny Handling and Sam Stanton all putting in an appearance as did Antell, who had spent last season on loan with East Stirling.
Such fixtures are little more than a necessary evil, an opportunity for players to begin shaking off the summer’s rustiness, to regain match fitness and their touch and for the manager to experiment as Fenlon did on this occasion. And they do offer the supporter that much longed-for sight of live football, the pain and suffering of the previous season gone and replaced with a renewed sense of optimism and anticipation for what lies ahead.
As such, little can be read into a 90 minutes which saw Fenlon deploy a total of 20 players – including former Hearts star Alan Maybury – while ex-Hibs striker Durie gave 17 of his small squad a run-out, the female announcer perhaps the busiest person in the ground as she rattled through the second-half changes, even earning herself a cheer from the visiting fans as she heralded the arrival of Pa, hesitating slightly, before pronouncing his surname Kujabi perfectly.
Football with a touch of sun following the miserable weather which had forced the cancellation of Hibs’ midweek clash with Romanian side Rapid Bucharest – you can’t beat it. Also helping the mood of the Capital fans was a well-merited win, Fenlon’s team worth their 2-0 victory through Sproule and an immaculately struck free-kick from Clancy which curled into the corner of the net.
Hibs might have had more than those second-half strikes, dominating from the first whistle as Sproule and then Wotherspoon, playing a more advanced role off lone striker Eoin Doyle, were just off target before Cairney’s cross got stuck between the feet of Doyle, the Irish hitman laying the ball off for a surprised Sproule to scuff a shot straight into the arms of East Fife goalkeeper Michael Brown.
At the other end, there was little to worry new boy Williams, the subdued atmposphere allowing the goalkeeper’s organisational skills to be heard to the full, although there was one moment of anxiety, Craig Johnstone “nutmegging” Clancy before drifting a measured effort over the former Colchester United No. 1 and onto the face of the bar.
The breakthrough came in the 52nd minute when Caldwell tried the spectacular, an overhead kick as he attempted to connect with Cairney’s cross, only to miss and see the ball fall at the feet of Sproule who lashed it past Brown and into the far corner of the net. Isaiah Osbourne saw a couple of powerfully-struck shots well held by Brown before the goalkeeper did well again to deflect Wotherspoon’s placed effort after the Hibs midfielder had dispossessed David White at the edge of his own penalty area.
Sproule blazed over from a good position before Clancy stepped up 11 minutes from time to clinch the win although there was still time for one more chance, Handling’s shot striking the trailing leg of Scott Durie from Caldwell’s cutback.
Now, though, Hibs face a tough schedule of four matches in three different countries in just seven days as they stage a whirlwind tour of Belgium, Holland and Germany before returning to complete their preparations for the new season with a visit from Championship new boys Huddersfield.
East Fife: Brown: Durie, White, McCormack (Brewster 73), Johnstone (Malcolm 50): McBride (Martin 88), Muir, Smith (King 75), Williamson; Wardlaw (Gordon 86), Samuel (Jamieson 75).
Hibs: Williams (Antell 63): Clancy, McPake, Stephens (Maybury 46), Hanlon (Booth 60): Sproule (Stanton 78), Claros (Osbourne 46), Stevenson (Monaghan 63), Cairney (Kujabi 67); Wotherspoon (Handling 85); Doyle (Caldwell 46).
Referee: Gavin Duncan.