THIS was clearly a rejuvenated Hibernian but the old failings were still in evidence as they were unable to breach a defiant Dunfermline defence in a frustrating pre-season friendly.
Just 31 goals in 38 league games contributed heavily to relegation from the Premiership last season and this would have been proof if any was needed that head coach Alan Stubbs needs to bolster his attacking options ahead of the new campaign.
Any visiting supporters who had crossed the Forth anticipating a first look at new signing Farid El Alagui in Hibs colours were left disappointed. The French-born Moroccan, who penned a two-year contract on Monday, was deemed not to have the requisite fitness for the work-out at East End Park and was kept in reserve for Sunday’s trip to face Stirling Albion.
With Jason Cummings, the subject of two enquiries from English Premier League outfit Swansea City, having picked up a hamstring problem in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Berwick Rangers, it was left to 17-year-old Lewis Allan to lead the line in an experimental formation selected by Stubbs. The former Celtic defender wants his team to be flexible and here he tested the three-man defence that proved to be in vogue at the World Cup finals in Brazil, with skipper Michael Nelson sweeping between Jordon Forster and Callum Booth. At right wing-back, trialist Luke Coulson was afforded a second opportunity to win a contract following 45 minutes at Shielfield Park and a decision on the former Cardiff City youngster is expected soon.
Although not yet confirmed by the club, former Kilmarnock and Dundee United keeper Alan Combe, who spent last season with Hearts, was again amongst the Hibs backroom staff, as was former Everton coach Andy Holden, whose arrival as assistant to Stubbs has likewise not been announced, but there was an undoubted freshness about the visitors early on.
Hibs dominated possession from the start but when Dunfermline did get a touch they immediately threatened. Forster’s block on Andy Stirling’s attempted shot in the fifth minute was crucial after the winger had combined with fellow new Pars signing Michael Moffat on the edge of the area.
Four minutes later, Hibs should have given themselves the comfort of the opening goal. Scott Robertson’s burst into the box was clumsily ended by Ross Forbes’ challenge from behind but, following their spot-kicks defeat to Hamilton Accies in May’s relegation play-off, Hibs’ nightmare relationship with penalties continued as Ryan Scully brilliantly beat away Liam Craig’s well-struck effort.
The midfielder looped a header on to the top of the net in the 19th minute as he attempted to make amends and, nine minutes later, the Championship team had the ball in the net courtesy of Lewis Stevenson, only to be denied by referee Stephen Finnie’s whistle, blown for an apparent tug by a Hibs player on defender Ross Millen.
The typical pre-season fare was livened ten minutes from the interval when Booth’s volleyed clearance struck an unsuspecting gull as it flew low over the stadium. Seconds later, Scully, back for a second loan spell from Partick Thistle, produced another impressive stop as he tipped away a netbound shot from Danny Handling. As the half ended, Hibs appeared to revert to a flat back four as Stubbs tinkered with his line-up and the 42-year-old was at it again early in the second period as, with a three-man defence restored, Coulson made way for new signing David Gray.
Hibs continued their dominance of possession but Scully repelled the visitors at every turn. He was not called into action on 55 minutes when Nelson headed Craig’s corner narrowly wide but he leapt brilliantly to his left to deny a Stevenson header four minutes later.
The Partick youngster was excellent again on the hour mark as he batted away Craig’s effort following an excellent through ball from Owain Tudur Jones.
A third consecutive clean sheet, with Dunfermline denied a late winner by the linesman’s flag for offside against substitute Shaun Byrne, was at least something for Hibs to take back to the capital with them.
Dunfermline: Scully; Millen (Williamson 64), Buchanan, Martin (Young 74), Whittle (Drummond 74); Falkingham (Spence 64), Forbes, Geggan (Byrne 46), Stirling (Thomson 46); El Bakhtaoui (Wallace 7 (Smith 58)); Moffat. Subs not used: Wilson.
Hibernian: Perntreau; Forster, Nelson, Booth; Coulson (Gray 54), Robertson, Tudur Jones, Craig, Stevenson (Todd 80); Handling (Stanton 76); Allan. Subs not used: Brennan, Gray, Dunsmore, Gardiner.