Reaction from Easter Road: Morton expose home team’s fragility
Probably the best that could be said for Hibs was that they achieved what they had set out to do – make the last eight of the Betfred Cup.
But they did so in a manner which was far from satisfactory, turning what should have been a comfortable afternoon into a fraught, nervy affair as victory clinched with virtually the last kick of the ball in the final minute of extra-time.
Two goals to the good – through Scott Allan and Josh Vela’s first for the club – Paul Heckingbottom’s side appeared to be cruising but Morton were level by the interval, exposing once again that fragility which can suddenly afflict Hibs.
Morton manager David Hopkin won promotion with Livingston by ensuring they were an obdurate, stubborn side, one which refused to give up the ghost, and those traits were evident again when Bob McHugh scored and a Lewis Stevenson own goal got them back on level terms.
Flo Kamberi’s strike put Hibs 3-2 ahead in the second half and appeared to have clinched the win but in the final minute Steven Whittaker sliced an attempted clearance into his own net, setting the alarm bells ringing only for the Swiss hitman and Christian Doidge to finally soothe the nerves.
“It was a hard afternoon but I am delighted we won and got into the next round,” admitted Kamberi. “It was harder than we expected after we went 2-0 up. We started the first 15 minutes very well but then we got a little bit sloppy and made mistakes and they scored.
“We have to be careful. We have respect for the opponent but we should have finished them off in 90 minutes. But we made our job a little bit more difficult than it should have been. But we got the goals and we are in the next round.”
As Hibs – with six changes made by Heckingbottom following last weekend’s 6-1 mauling by Rangers at Ibrox – struggled to control the game Kamberi, with Swiss club Basel watching, was the most impressive individual in green and white, the 24-year-old looking, as he has in recent weeks, more like the player who scored nine goals in 14 matches in that impressive initial loan spell in Edinburgh.
The first of his brace was that of a striker in form, beating Danny Rogers in a race for Vykintas Slivka’s through ball and, with the Morton goalkeeper stranded well outside the area, showing the composure and balance to slot the ball home, on the angle, from 20 yards out.
He said: “If I had hit the ball to the right and it was an open goal and I missed it that would have been a shame. So I was happy I hit the ball well and it went into the net.
“I was happy with my performance, yes. I could have scored even more so I can’t be 100 per cent happy. But I’m happy I helped the team to the next round with my two goals.”
Hibs assistant head coach Robbie Stockdale admitted, however, Heckingbottom’s side had suffered a scare at the hands of the Championship side, a situation which was completely of their own making.
He said: “We were really comfortable in the first half after two good goals but it serves as a reminder that if you stop doing the things that get you in to those positions you can get found out a bit. We got a scare.
“It was our own doing. Not taking anything away from Morton because they stuck to the game and made it difficult and we stopped doing what we’d been doing.
“It then became a test of mentality and I thought the players did well with that. Second half they stood up to it and should have been out of sight.”
Heckingbottom had described the humiliation at Ibrox as “a wake up call” but, conceded Stockdale, lessons still needed to be learned, admitting they had again “gone through a bit of pain.”
“We just got too comfortable,” he said. “We took our foot off the gas and gave us a reminder that that can’t happen. Against anyone.”