Alan Stubbs’ players were left shaking their heads in disbelief as Dunfermline goalkeeper Ryan Scully’s heroics forced the Capital side to settle for a goalless draw.
The on-loan Partick Thistle star almost single-handedly defied the Easter Road outfit last night, pulling off a string of stunning saves, starting with a spot-kick stop from penalty king Liam Craig.
Scully followed up that effort with equally breathtaking saves from teenager Lewis Allan, Danny Handling, Lewis Stevenson and Craig again before the Pars almost stole a win in the dying minutes.
But this time it was Hibs goalkeeper Kleton Pertntreou’s turn to shine, the youngster acrobatically pushing aside Michael Moffat’s deflected piledriver before breathing a sigh of relief as the offside flag went up against Shaun Byrne as he knocked home the rebouned.
After scoring eight goals in their previous two matches, it was the first time Hibs had drawn a blank in their pre-season programme, a fact which Stubbs insisted was only of secondary interest to him.
He said: “I thought some of the football we played was good, we created some really good chances.
“Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves. On another night we win the game, but that’s not the most important thing. The fact we had a really good work-out was the most important thing.
“It had a real competitive edge and a step up from our performance point of view that I was looking for.”
As a former defender, though, Stubbs declared himself “thoroughly pleased” with a third successive clean sheet, saying: “That gives the lads in front the confidence to keep going forward.”
A foot knock sustained in training earlier in the day ruled Paul Hanlon out, the defender joining Paul Heffernan, Jason Cummings and Alex Harris who were all nursing minor injuries.
New signing Farid El Alagui was also missing, Stubbs having indicated the striker was a week behind his new team-mates in terms of pre-season training although the former Falkirk star is expected to feature at some point in Sunday’s match against Stirling Albion at Forthbank.
Stubbs said: “I am not just going to throw him in just because he is a new signing, he has to be ready. But I am confident he will play some part of the game.”
And with Hibs Under-20s facing Spartans at Ainslie Park tonight (kick-off 7.30pm), Stubbs named just six substitutes rather than having a crammed bench as he had for previous friendlies against Vale of Leithen and Berwick Rangers, a move which would ensure extended game time for those involved at East End Park.
So it proved with all but three of those who started the game finishing it while Dunfermline, made nine changes over the course of the 90 minutes.
Stubbs also opted for a change of formation, deciding on a 3-5-2 with Jordon Forster and Callum Booth either side of Michael Nelson at the back while Lewis Coulson, the former Cardiff City player again listed as a trialist, operated wide on the right of midfield and Stevenson on the left.
Hibs should have gone ahead after just nine minutes when Scott Robertson, burrowing into the Pars penalty area, was tripped by Ross Forbes, referee Stephen Finnie having no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Craig, who’d scored from 12 yards in the 4-0 win over Berwick, was again entrusted but Scully threw himself full-length to get a strong right hand to the ball, leaving the Easter Road midfielder to probably reflect his effort was at just the right height to give the goalkeeper a chance of saving.
Having faced Lowland League and then League Two opposition, the trip across the Forth represented a stiffer test for Hibs, Jim Jefferies’ side themselves having hoped to be facing Hibs, Hearts and Rangers in the Championship this coming season rather than enduring another year in League One.
But despite that fact and the tinkering Stubbs had made to his formation, the Capital outfit enjoyed by far the greater share of possession in the opening half-an-hour and they did have the ball in the net during that period, Stevenson following up after 17-year-old Lewis Allan’s angled shot had been blocked by Scully.
Referee Finnie, however, ruled the little midfielder had been guilty of a tug on Ross Millen, son of former Hibs defender Andy, before he managed to prod the ball over the line. Other than an early one-two between Moffat and Andy Stirling which forced Forster into a timely intervention, the Pars had hardly ruffled Hibs’ feathers – but Booth did exactly that to one of the seagulls circulating overhead, his clearance catching the unfortunate bird which, luckily, showed no ill-effects as it flew away.
As half-time approached, Dunfermline twice more had Scully to thank for keeping them on level terms, the goalkeeper again throwing himself to his right to push away a powerful effort from Handling and then alert enough to push over a cross from Coulson which was threatening to drop under his crossbar.
Stubbs would undoubtedly have enjoyed the way his players had adhered to his desire to have them playing passing football even if there hadn’t, due mainly to the heroics of Scully, been any end product with Robertson and Craig working well in the middle of the park and Handling again looking eager in the free role he’d been given behind young Allan.
Hibs, who had reverted to a 4-4-2, continued to make chances immediately after the interval, a rising shot from Craig taken off target by a Dunfermline head before Forster powered in only to send his header wide.
And Scully was again the Pars’ saviour on the hour mark, somehow getting down to get his left hand to the ball after Stevenson had found the room eight yards out to meet Booth’s cross with his head.
A slip by Dunfermline substitute Jonathan Page gave Allan another sight of goal but his low shot beat not only Scully but the far post.
But it was Scully who was stealing the show, the on-loan Partick Thistle goalie somehow defying Craig for a second time after Owain Tudur Jones’ superb pass had left his team-mate with only the Pars No.1 to beat.
Even so, it was looking only a matter of time until Hibs broke the deadlock and they should have had another attempt from the penalty spot when Pars sub Lewis Spence, who had only been on the pitch a matter of seconds, clearly put his right hand onto the ball, referee Finnie incredibly indicating to the away bench that it had struck his chest.
Dunfermline almost sneaked one at the other end 12 minutes from time, Spence’s free-kick eluding Perntreou at the back post but also the on-rushing Kerr Young. And they went even closer almost on the whistle when Perntreou clawed away Moffat’s effort.
Dunfermline: Scully, Millen (Spence 64), Buchanan, Martin (Dummond 74), Whittle (Young 74), Falkingham (Williamson 64), Forbes (Page 46), Geggan (Thomson 46), Stirling (Byrne 46), El Bakhtaoui (Wallace 7, Smith 57)), Moffat.
Subs not used: Wilson, Smith.
Hibs: Perntreou, Forster, Nelson, Booth, Coulson (Gray 53), Robertson, Tudur Jones, Craig, Stevenson (Todd 80), Handling (Stanton 76), Allan.
Subs not used: Brennan, Dunsmore, Gardiner.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.