IT WOULD have been easy to imagine Jason Cummings returning to pre-season with his teenage swagger sorely diminished this season, cutting a more subdued figure after missing the penalty which saw Hibernian surrender their Premiership status.
Berwick Rangers 0-4 Hibernian
Scorers: Gray (17) Craig (30) Gardiner (82) Allan (86)
The 18-year-old, on a high from a brace in the first leg of Hibs’ ill-fated playoff against Hamilton, stepped up to take the final kick in the shootout against the Accies four days later. Kevin Thomson had seen his earlier effort saved and Cummings had to score. He didn’t.
It is the sort of experience from which some youngsters would struggle to recover. Cummings appears, however, to be made of sterner stuff than that.
In his first interview since that failed spot-kick, it is evident that the confident young man who told Sky Sports’ Luke Shanley that he had “opened a tin of beans” with his “good zing” against Hamilton is still very much there, and still providing the soundbites.
“I saw the bids, that was decent, but my focus is on Hibs,” he said after it emerged last week that Swansea City had seen two bids for his service rejected. “And if I do the business, maybe a team from La Liga will come in for me.”
His tongue was planted firmly in cheek. Probably.
Behind the brash exterior – and, for better or worse, it is hard not to see shades of a young Derek Riordan in Cummings – there is a steely determination to right the wrongs of last season. Whether due to a lack of viable options or otherwise, Cummings has led the line for head coach Alan Stubbs’ Hibs side throughout pre-season and appears to be the man who will be charged spearheading the attack in the coming campaign.
“[The playoffs] was a crazy week, with high and lows, and it took me a while to shake it off. I went to Magaluf with a few friends from school and tried to forget about everything to do with football,” the former Hearts youth player said.
“You have to clear your mind, try to move on and go again. I’ve forgotten about it now.
“You need to be able to forget things and shrug off the disappointments. Football is going to be about ups and downs and you’ve got to be strong enough to deal with it. All players miss penalties.
“I’m here to help the boys get back up to the Premiership, that’s my aim for this season.”
It was the rather more unusual figure of David Gray who broke the deadlock in the Borders as Hibs continued their pre-season campaign against Berwick Rangers.
Indeed, in case any supporters envision the sight of Gray surging forward from midfield and fizzing a shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards being a regular occurrence, it is worth noting he has never scored a competitive goal.
It took until the hour-mark for the visitors to double their lead, with the electric Max Todd – a wispy winger of some promise – winning a penalty after collapsing under the challenge of Berwick goalkeeper Michael Andrews. Liam Craig, just nine miles from his home town of Chirnside, converted.
Berwick wilted in the closing stages and produced some comical defending. Under-20s centre-back Tom Gardiner was given the freedom of the box to make it 3-0 with a low finish after 82 minutes.
And, with the home side wishing away the final minutes, a woeful back-pass from substitute Scott McKenzie was seized upon by Lewis Allan, who rolled the ball almost apologetically into an empty net.
“We are improving and it is all about small steps. Dunfermline on Tuesday will be a step up again,” added head coach Alan Stubbs, who watched the game alongside new goalkeeping coach Alan Combe and incoming assistant Andy Holden, with the pair set to be confirmed this week.
Berwick Rangers: Bald (Andrews 45); Jacobs (Dunn 63), Fairbairn, Tulloch (Miller 70), Hoskins; Willis (Gray 63), P Currie, L Currie, Carse (McKenzie 63), Gold (Horribine 70); Russell (Doyle 70).
Hibernian: Perntreou (Brennan 45); Gray (Coulson 45), Hanlon (Forster 60), Nelson (Gardiner 67), Stevenson (Booth 63); Todd, Craig (Dunsmore 63), Robertson (Tudur Jones 60), Stanton (McCaffrey 67); Handling (Martin 70), Cummings (Allan 45).