WITH every respect to Cowdenbeath, this was too easy for Hibs. Had it been played at their East Mains retreat, with bibs and a tactics board, it would hardly have been more like a training exercise. Five different scorers, some of them unaccustomed to the privilege, made the most of a match that was as comfortable as any they will face at Easter Road this season.
Scorers: Hibernian - Hanlon 9; Cummings 25; Robertson 73; Booth 83; Stevenson 90
There were two early goals, by Paul Hanlon and Jason Cummings. And there were three late ones, by Scott Robertson, Callum Booth and Lewis Stevenson. Only for a short period early in the second half was there a drop in standards, but you could hardly blame the home side. It was as though they had passed themselves to sleep.
Jimmy Nicholl, the Cowdenbeath manager, was angry that his team had succumbed so meekly, especially when the roof caved in at the end. Alan Stubbs, on the other hand, preferred to credit his own players for moving to within five points of second-placed Rangers with such a routine triumph.
“We made it that way,” said Stubbs. “We’ve seen from early on this season that sometimes it can be difficult when you’re at home. Teams come here and make it hard for you, but we were good and, when we had chances to score, we took them. We were in control all afternoon.”
Stubbs barely emerged from his dugout all day. Mark Oxley, the Hibs goalkeeper, didn’t have a save to make. There was a gentle return from injury for Jordon Forster, a second-half substitute, and there were rare goals for the full-backs, Stevenson and Booth. “It’s nice when the goals are getting shared around the team,” said Stubbs. “You’re always looking for your strikers to score goals but the fact that everybody’s chipping in is a good sign.”
In the first half, Hibs were first to everything, maintained possession well and hit the byeline with pleasing regularity. All over the pitch, their players took on opponents almost at will, leaving the visitors outnumbered in key areas .
Cowdenbeath’s goalkeeper contributed to the pressure on his side with a curious reluctance to catch the ball. At least twice, Robbie Thomson opted to punch a relatively simple cross before missing one altogether. When the ball was returned across the box, Hanlon knocked it high into the net with his left foot.
Hibs had Stevenson at right-back, allowing Booth to play on the left, where he is most comfortable. From there, he gushed forward several times, most notably with a 40-yard run that left two opponents in his wake. His cut-back was perfect, but Cummings failed to connect properly with a shot that drifted wide.
Cummings has his faults, but he always comes back for more, which explains his prolific form. His 12th goal of the season, his sixth in five games, came after a couple of team-mates did the spadework. Dylan McGeouch wriggled away from two defenders and fed Scott Allan, who in turn spun his marker and pulled the ball back. Inside the six-yard box, Cummings converted with his left foot.
Only then did Cowdenbeath begin venturing into Hibs territory, but Cummings was still a threat, this time from long range. While one effort was too high, another was caught perfectly. From 25 yards out, his left-foot shot appeared destined for the top corner until Thomson’s right hand palmed it round the post.
After the interval, the game followed a similar pattern, but with less penetration by Hibs. Cummings’ stinging shot was beaten away by the goalkeeper, and Hanlon failed to find the target when another loose ball broke to him in the box, but the imagination that had stretched Cowdenbeath’s defence briefly deserted them.
After an hour, their opponents even manufactured a shot on goal, although Lewis Milne’s effort never threatened the target. When his team rustled up a corner several minutes later, the smattering of Fifers behind the goal at last found their voice.
Hibs soon rediscovered their urgency, though. Cummings sent another one wide. Then, with 17 minutes left, Robertson produced the goal that made the difference. After slaloming past a couple of men, he opened his body and stroked it low into the far corner of the net.
Any remaining morale in the Cowdenbeath ranks quickly disappeared, thanks also to the introduction of Sam Stanton who tested the goalkeeper with a low drive before setting up the fourth. After surging down the right, he squared the ball across the box and watched as Booth crashed it over the line.
That ought to have concluded the scoring, but there was time for another, this time when Stevenson collected possession outside the penalty area. His drilled shot sped across the turf and inside the right-hand post.
“I don’t expect them to win all their matches but I expect them to make it a lot more difficult than they did today,” said Nicholl, whose Cowdenbeath team play second-placed Rangers next.
Hibernian: Oxley; Stevenson, Hanlon, Fontaine, Booth; McGeouch (Forster 77), Robertson, Allan (Stanton 65), Craig; Boyle (Handling 78), J Cummings. Subs not used: Perntreou, Heffernan, Allan, Martin.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson; Miller, O’Brien, Wedderburn, J Halsman; Marshall; Milne, Robertson, Hughes (Buchanan 71); Oyenuga, Higgins. Subs not used: Sneddon, Adamson, Armstrong, Kane, Brownlie, Johnston.
Referee: A Dallas. Attendance: 8,240
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