YOU could try to make a case for Recreation Park not being ready for Hibernian. Some of the letters had fallen off the “Home” and “Away” signs outside the little football outpost while on Alloa Athletic’s Wikipedia page Barry Smith’s predecessor was still listed as manager.
Alloa 2-1 Hibernian
Scorers: Alloa - Buchanan (56), Flannigan (85); Hibernian - Cummings (15)
Back-page scribes reporting on the game will tell you how the tiny pressbox in the main stand did not have functioning wifi until a computer whizz who had been enjoying pre-match hospitality in the John White Suite was nominated to rush across town for the vital thingummyjob.
But you would have far more success arguing that Hibs were not ready for Recreation Park. “Clubs like Alloa are going to bring their A-games when they play us,” said Jason Cummings after this latest defeat, three of the first four in the Championship. So what did Hibs bring on Saturday? “You mean from the alphabet, like? Probably our M-game.”
Hibs did not like Alloa’s plastic pitch. “If you ask me it’s not worthy of professional football,” said Jordon Forster. Had the Hibees been complacent? He said not. “We came to this ground knowing how tough it would be,” added the defender, one of the Leith team’s better performers. “You can have off-days and this was one of them.”
But Cummings, Hibs’ goalscorer and usually always forthright, had detected some presumptuousness in their ranks. “This is definitely a wake-up call for us, coming here and expecting to win. No disrespect, but we should be running over teams like Alloa. It’s just not good enough.”
Let’s be clear: Hibs were not beaten by the pokey stadium or the artificial surface or the ball occasionally disappearing into suburban back gardens or even the presence on the menu of the “Wasp Special”: black pudding, potato scone, bacon. They were beaten by Alloa Athletic, a team who showed more fight. More creativity too.
Hibs have a few small or slight guys with neat feet who can flatter to deceive and on Saturday’s showing they have added two more in Scott Allan and Matthew Kennedy, although they were more prominent than most. Liam Craig is neither small nor slight but the captain’s only moment of prominence was his yellow card for a theatrical protest. There seemed little danger of anyone in green and white being cautioned for a fierce challenge.
Forster did not use the surface as an excuse. “It’s not great, but we’re good enough players to come here and play on stone if needs be. You don’t want to talk about luck. In the two league before today [defeats by Hearts and Falkirk] we played well and got nothing but we didn’t deserve anything from here.
“Alloa are a decent side, quite direct, but they move the ball well. We were second to every ball and they were the hungrier. We weren’t good enough. That’s unacceptable at any club, and especially a club like Hibs. We’re very disappointed and we’ve only got ourselves to blame.”
Hibs were given a goal of a start when a Cummings header was helped past Craig McDowall by Daryll Meggatt. Cummings was claiming the strike but said: “I’ll need to see it again.” Unfortunately he may struggle to find footage from the game. Such is life for the Hibees in the Championship.
Against Alloa in history Hibs have won 11-2 and 8-0 and in a 1997 League Cup tie at Easter Road Chic Charnley scored from the halfway line. On Saturday they would probably have been content with consolidating that lead, but manager Alan Stubbs reckoned that when Farid El Alagui had to be stretchered off his team lost their way. To be fair to Stubbs, he wasn’t making excuses either. Hibs, he said, had not done enough of the “dirty work”.
Before the latest defeat, Stubbs had failed in an attempt to bring Leigh Griffiths back on loan from Celtic. Now, with El Alagui injured, you wonder where the goals are going to come from, given goalkeeper Mark Oxley is joint second-top scorer. “We’re just going to have to find them elsewhere,” admitted Forster.
The architect of Alloa’s success was another diminutive midfielder, Kevin Cawley. The Wasps equalised through their top marksman Greig Spence and the winner came from substitute Iain Flannigan with his first touch – a sweetly-struck free kick a minute after taking the field. This thrilled old-timers sporting black-and-yellow ties, for none of them were quite vintage enough to remember the last time Alloa beat Hibs, way back in 1922.
Recreation Park is an open ground, so the Hibs players had to talk about the defeat amid taunts from the younger element of the home fans. Cummings confessed the place had been a culture shock. “We need to come to grounds like this, play like it’s Celtic Park and lift our game even more,” he stressed.
Forster said the only consolation for him was that compared to the “battle” of last season he was enjoying his football under Stubbs. “We have to thank the new manager for that but we’re going to have to start doing it in games,” he admitted.
It had been a disorientating day for anyone of a Hibee persuasion. As the homeward train diverted to Stirling, one fan said to his mate: “I hate central Scotland. I need coast.”
With trips to Falkirk and Livingston to come they had better get used to it - and quickly.