Reaction from Easter Road: No plain sailing for rusty Hibs
The draw for the Betfred Cup couldn’t have been much kinder for Hibs, placing them in Group C with four part-time clubs, a couple of them from League Two, another newly promoted to the Championship and one which had escaped relegation from that division by the skin of their teeth.
However, it has proved anything but plain sailing for Paul Heckingbottom’s players so far, with the fight for automatic progression in the competition a three-way fight between the Capital outfit, Arbroath – next up at Easter Road tomorrow night – and Elgin City who they visit on Friday.
The excuse could be made that things are still very much in a pre-season stage, but that also goes for their rivals who possibly find it even tougher given they’ll only train together a couple of nights a week.
But for Heckingbottom and his assistant Robbie Stockdale, it’s a case of having to balance a number of factors, assimilating their summer signings into their set-up, ensuring every player is being brought to peak fitness by sharing game time around while, of course, trying to win matches. It’s a tricky conundrum but, nevertheless, there is an expectation among the fans, happy with what they saw in the latter stages of last season after Heckingbottom took over from Neil Lennon but now with the added excitement of new owner Ron Gordon having control of their club.
The flip side is that anticipation can lead to frustration when things don’t quite pan out as expected, supporters never slow to let the players know how they are feeling, their disquiet muted but nevertheless evident in this, their first home match, as they watched Heckingbottom’s side struggle to get their noses in front against Alloa.
The Wasps were well-organised, disciplined and resolute, traits which were probably well exercised last season as they managed to avoid the Championship’s relegation zone by a single point but, admitted Hibs’ head coach, the home side were sloppy, lacking in width at times and without any great tempo in the opening 45 minutes.
Yes, they dominated both in terms of possession and territory but for all that, they again lacked that cutting edge, with Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry no doubt surprised but happy to have only a couple of shots to deal with. “When a team is sitting in against you there’s not much space,” said Heckingbottom. “But the way we were playing played into their hands a bit.
“We had to change to try and get some real width to stretch them and create some space for Scott Allan and Fraser Murray otherwise we’d have continued to do that.
“I felt we were the better team throughout, but we were making it easier for them than it should have been. They killed the space but we had wingers coming in a little bit in the first half and it wasn’t right having our full backs provide all the width.”
Hibs had to wait until the 68th minute to make the breakthrough, Christian Doidge winning the race with Parry for Murray’s through ball, the striker dinking it over him before colliding with him and inflicting an injury which resulted in the goalkeeper requiring hospital treatment for a nasty gash on his head.
Heckingbottom said afterwards that he expected the former Forest Green Rovers striker, will score plenty more – provided he gets the service he requires. He said: “Chris is good in the air but their two centre backs got tight with him. He’ll score a lot of goals with the ball in the air but we were forcing it a bit too much, crossing from too deep instead of getting round the back of them.”
The head of Doidge had the ball in the net again only for the offside flag to have been raised against him before Tom James allowed everyone to breathe that little bit easier by hammering a 20-yard shot into the top corner of the net. Like Doidge, it was the ex-Yeovil Town defender’s first competitive goal for his new club.
“They were two good finishes and that will do them the world of good,” said Heckingbottom. “We got there in the end, but when you look at it we had 20-odd shots and only two goals.”