THE scouts from Malmo FF, Hibernian’s Europa League opponents, did not look overly concerned by what they saw in last night’s Kirkcaldy stalemate.
The duo from the Swedish league leaders cut conspicuous figures at Stark’s Park, flaunting electronic tablet devices and tactical diagrams as they sized up Pat Fenlon’s charges. And the dossier which is fast-tracked back to Malmo manager Rikard Norling will not tell the story of a vintage Hibs display against SPFL Championship outfit Raith Rovers. Indeed, by mid-way through the second-half, the frantic scribbling had slowed to light-hearted doodling.
The result – and to a large degree, the performance – is an irrelevance in these pre-season kickabouts, but the Edinburgh club did lack sharpness, bite and potency. For all the talent young duo Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling possess, the Hibees look like they could do with a more experienced striker ahead of their trip to Malmo. Such issues will, of course, be forgotten on Thursday if Fenlon’s men can secure a positive result at the SwedBank Stadion in the second qualifying round, but a big improvement will be needed.
Among the interested observers in Fife were Kevin Thomson, who has spent pre-season training with the Hibees but has yet to sign, and former Celtic captain Stephen McManus, who has been touted for a move to Easter Road. They saw the men in green make an industrious start which saw Liam Craig and Handling both pass up opportunities. However, Rovers, visibly further behind in their pre-season preparations, found a foothold as the first half progressed and, from the moment former Hearts striker Calum Elliot stung the palms of Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams in the 20th minute, the Fifers were, at worst, the equals of their top-flight visitors.
Williams was altogether less composed minutes later as he lost his footing while attempting to collect a Joe Cardle corner kick, necessitating Craig to clear off the line. After the break, James McPake and Caldwell went close for Hibs, while Dougie Hill, Grant Anderson and Ross Callachan did likewise for the hosts.