WITH the new season and a visit from Championship rivals Rangers only four days away, Hibs wrapped up their preparations with a dull no-scoring draw against League 1 outfit Ayr United.
However, it was far from the side Easter Road fans can expect to see for the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup on Saturday with eight teenagers pressed into service over the 90 minutes.
Man in demand Scott Allan, while at Somerset Park, didn’t get his working clothes on, remaining a spectator alongside team-mates Martin Boyle, James Keatings and Marvin Bartley.
Club skipper David Gray and Lewis Stevenson were among the substitutes but never got off the bench, head coach Alan Stubbs intent on ensuring no mishaps with the real action almost upon him.
Stubbs himself opted for Ibrox to have a look at Mark Warburton’s Rangers for the first time, leaving assistant Andy Holden and first-team coach John Doolan in charge of a young-looking Hibs line-up with teenagers Aaron Dunsmore, Callum Crane, Scott Martin and Conner Duthie all handed a start.
Liam Fontaine and Jason Cummings were limited to second-half appearances, joined by another clutch of kids on the bench in Lewis Allan, Jordan Sinclair, Aaron Scott and Jordan McGregor as Stubbs kept his promise to “mix it up” ahead of Saturday’s season opener.
Nevertheless, Doolan declared the 90 minutes a worthwhile exercise, a chance to give some of those youngsters their first taste of first-team action and for others further experience.
Confirming Allan, Gray and Stevenson had all been rested with the weekend in mind, Doolan said: “It was a decent exercise for the seniors that played and while the youngsters still have a long way to go in terms of their development, it was good experience for them.”
There was a familiar figure in the home side, ex-Hibs striker Ross Caldwell playing as one of two trialists fielded by Ayr boss Ian McCall. And it was Caldwell who had the game’s first opening, Crane’s slip allowing him a run-in on Mark Oxley only for Jordon Forster to provide the covering tackle.
Despite their youth, however, Hibs began to look menacing, Ayr goalkeeper Greg Fleming beating away an Alex Harris cross and then looking on gratefully as Sam Stanton lofted over from his team-mate’s corner.
Hibs continued to press, Dominique Malonga slipping the ball inside Paddy Boyle for the overlapping Dunsmore who delivered a dangerous low cross which Martyn Campbell managed to turn behind for a corner before Stanton pulled a low shot wide – not as wide, mind you, as Forster’s effort a few minutes later, one which drew a sheepish smile from the big defender.
Hibs replaced half their team after the interval. The six substitutions made left the visitors with only goalkeeper Tony Reguero and Fontaine over the age of 21 as the second half got underway but the new-look side was quickly into its stride, Harris curling a low free-kick around the defensive wall and forcing goalkeeper Fleming to claw the ball round his left-hand post.
Sinclair went even closer three minutes later, the youngster delivering a measured shot from 22 yards which had Fleming beaten only for the ball to clip the top his crossbar.
The part-timers of Ayr had caused few problems but Dunsmore had to look sharp to thwart Ryan Nisbet after Ross Docherty’s superb through ball had set the substitute free.
Fleming was forced into a more unorthodox save as Hibs continued to probe for that elusive opening, the goalkeeper racing from his area to head away Scott’s ball before either Cummings or Allan could capitalise.
Reguero, like Oxley before him, hadn’t had a save to make but the Spaniard was happy to see Fontaine appear in front of him to hook Nisbet’s cross over his own bar as Ayr posed a rare threat.
That moment of danger was suddenly followed by another, Fontaine holding up Caldwell as the striker attempted to get past him but still managing to get away a shot which left Reguero flat-footed only for the ball to come back off the post.
At the other end Forster got up to meet Harris’s free-kick but managed only to send a looping header over the top before Sinclair tested Ayr’s Shaun Newman with a hanging cross, one which the replacement ’keeper took albeit with no pressure exerted on him by a Hibs forward.
But it was the home side who almost won it late on, Caldwell’s flick finding Nisbet who appeared to have made room for a shot with a clever turn only for Forster to throw himself in front of the ball and ensure the game remained scoreless – although Crane went close in the dying seconds with a glancing header which Newman blocked well.
Ayr United: Fleming (Newman 77), Devlin, Boyle, Docherty (McCracken 72), McLauchlan, Campbell (Nisbet 46), Crawford (McKenzie 67), Adam (Donald 60), Caldwell, Trouten (Muir 46), Gilmour (Wardrope 67).
Hibernian: Oxley (Reguero 46), Dunsmore, Forster, Hanlon (Fontaine 46), Crane, Fyvie (Sinclair 46), Martin (Scott 46), Stanton (L Allan 46), Harris, Duthie, Malonga (Cummings 46). Subs not used: Gray, Stevenson, Scott, McGregor.