For new head coach Alan Stubbs, there is a growing sense that things are coming together. Although they suffered defeat by Dundee United, the sight of a new goalkeeper between the sticks and an improved display on home turf ensured it was an afternoon of satisfaction for Hibernian at Easter Road yesterday.
Scorer: Dundee United - Erskine (76)
Mark Oxley is the man Stubbs has turned to as he seeks a reliable last line of defence and the 23-year-old from Hull City looked comfortable throughout. There was nothing he could do about United’s winner, a left-foot curler by substitute Chris Erskine, and Stubbs is clearly satisfied with his fourth recruit of the summer.
His arrival is set to be confirmed in the next 24 hours, but Stubbs was content to wax lyrical after watching the former England youth ’keeper play as a trialist yesterday.
“I told you all along that I would have one in place, it was just a matter of me getting the right one,” he said. “Some people panic but it’s not my style. I knew what I wanted and I said all along that if it meant me waiting then I would wait for the right one. I feel as if I’ve got the right one.
“Hopefully, it’s longer but I think it will be a season-long loan. Like everything, there will probably be a recall in it, just in case something else happens. But I spoke to [Hull counterpart] Steve Bruce the other day and there would have to be a volcano or something happen for them to recall him, so hopefully there are no volcanoes!”
The rest of Hibs’ line-up bore the hallmarks of the kind of team that could be given the nod when the competitive action gets under way, with the trip to face Rangers on Petrofac Training Cup duty next Tuesday. Should he get himself up to speed in time, one change could be the inclusion of new signing Scott Allan, who had to make do with a second-half debut from the bench. The 22-year-old’s afternoon was soured against his old team when he gave the ball away at Erskine’s goal.
Also introduced with Allan as a 73rd-minute replacement was freed Newcastle United midfielder Michael Richardson, who has been training with Hibs, and he could play again against East Fife on Wednesday before a decision is made.
This may have been another in a long list of pre-season friendlies, but there was still plenty of interest. Among the crowd were Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and assistant Stevie Crawford, Dumbarton manager Ian Murray, Partick Thistle coach Ian Maxwell and the SFA’s performance director, Mark Wotte.
It was noticeable early on that, on Stubbs’ home debut, the Edinburgh outfit were eager to bed in a patient passing style of play not seen as they slipped to the embarrassment of relegation from the Premiership last season. For Lewis Stevenson, Jordon Forster, Scott Robertson and Liam Craig, this was their first taste of match-day at Easter Road since that painful penalty-kicks defeat by Hamilton Accies back in May.
Following a cautious first-half, United goalkeeper Rado Cierzniak had to look smart seven minutes after the interval when he pulled off a magnificent stop. Jordon Forster’s long free kick was touched inside by Harris and the winger unleashed a stinging 25-yard drive that was prevented from finding the top corner by a stunning one-handed save.
There was nothing Cierzniak could do three minutes later when El Alagui thought he had netted for the first time in Hibs’ colours with an eight-yard header. Danny Handling’s cross was headed back across goal by Liam Craig but the offside flag denied the Moroccan marksman the opener.
The usual flurry of substitutions disrupted the rhythm, but United will be happy not to have allowed the match to peter out, as they struck a 77th-minute winner.
The goal was a moment to forget for Allan on his debut against the club he left behind for West Brom in controversial circumstances in January 2012. An attempted cross-field pass was cut out by Aidan Connolly and the substitute teed up fellow-replacement Erskine, who curled a superb shot round Oxley from just inside the area.
For United, this was the first chance to see summer signing Jaroslaw Fojut in action and he was joined in the starting ranks by fellow new recruits Callum Morris and Blair Spittal, with Mario Bilate given his first start after being snapped up during the club’s recent tour to the Netherlands. But there was no Andrew Robertson, the Scotland full-back instead sitting among the supporters ahead of the expected conclusion of his move to Hull City today.
“Andrew’s going down to speak to them,” explained United manager Jackie McNamara. “The two clubs have agreed a fee, so we’ll find out in the next couple of days whether it’s either a yes or a no – hopefully it’s a no.”
Hibernian: Oxley; Gray, Forster, Hanlon, Stevenson (Booth 73); Robertson (Tudur Jones 73), Craig (S. Allan 73); Harris (Richardson 73), Handling (L. Allan 73), Stanton (Nelson 73); El Alagui. Subs not used: Perntreou, Gardiner, Duthie.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; Spittal (Petrie 69), Morris, Fojut (Fraser 90), Dillon; Paton (Telfer 69), Rankin (Smith 79); Dow (Connolly 73), Ciftci (Mackay-Steven 62), Armstrong (Erskine 69); Bilate (Graham 62). Subs not used: McCallum.