IT IS too early to say if Alan Stubbs is one of these managers who are born lucky, but the signs are promising.
F.El Alagui 16
Not only did he preside over a victory in his first competitive match at Easter Road, the goals were scored by two of his new signings, and one of them was the team’s goalkeeper.
Three minutes after Farid El Alagui had given Hibs an early lead, Mark Oxley, the Englishman on loan from Hull City, doubled it with a clearance that bounced once on its way through the Livingston defence and clean into the net. Not since Andy Goram did the same against Morton in 1988 has a Hibs goalkeeper found the scoresheet.
It turned out to be the goal that secured the Edinburgh side their first home win since a 2-1 defeat of Ross County in February, which is perhaps why neither Oxley nor Stubbs felt much sympathy for Darren Jamieson, the Livingston goalkeeper. “Mmmh, I should do really, but no,” said Oxley. “I don’t get many chances like that to celebrate.”
It gets the relegated club’s Championship campaign off to a solid start, although it should have been more comfortable than it was. A second-half goal by Declan Gallagher set up a nervy climax in which Hibs withdrew deeper into their own half. As Stubbs pointed out later, they played better against Rangers in midweek, and lost.
“That was the ending I wanted before the whistle was blown,” said Stubbs. “We could have made it a little bit easier for ourselves but if we thought Livingston were just going to lie down and let us get three or four, we were kidding ourselves. First and foremost, I want to win games. If I can do that with style, and be pleasing on the eye, then I’ll do that, but I can only build something if I win games.”
Stubbs and John McGlynn, the Livingston manager, cut contrasting figures on the touchline. Stubbs, hands in the pockets of his suit trousers, moved barely an inch on the edge of the technical area.
McGlynn, with his cap and his boots and his polyester bottoms, kicked and headed every ball, which wasn’t required in the early stages as Livingston threatened to give their hosts a rude welcome to Scotland’s second tier. Jason Talbot swung in the corner, Gallagher climbed above his marker and the ball thundered off the home crossbar.
It was a fright alright, but Hibs needn’t have worried. Nine minutes later, they were two ahead. Stubbs’ new charges slung the ball around nicely, much as they were expected to do under his guidance, but the goals could hardly have been more direct if a crow had flown them into the net.
The first came after a pass by Alex Harris set up El Alagui, whose shot was deflected over the bar. Undeterred by that disappointment, the Moroccan picked himself up, looked for the resulting corner – delivered by Liam Craig – and headed the ball high into the net. Then came Oxley’s intervention. No-one in the Livingston camp seemed able or willing to deal with the clearance from hands, which bounced behind the last defender, over Jamieson, and into the net. With Paul Hanlon off the pitch, receiving treatment for a nose injury, it was a masterclass in how to play with ten men.
“Shooooot!”, shouted the Hibs fans every time Oxley gathered possession. He didn’t do that, but he did almost set up another. This time, when he launched it long, Jordan Forster provided the flick and El Alagui was just too heavy with a touch that lifted it over the bar.
Hibs’ goals were not a reflection of their play. There was variety in their approach, on the ground and in the air. Harris had a decent hit saved after Scott Robertson’s backheel. Then Craig’s thump from outside the box was pushed over by Jamieson.
Oxley had work to do in his own penalty box, albeit not until half-time approached, when he scrambled to prevent Kyle Jacobs’ cross sneaking in at the front post. Then, with Oxley stranded, there was a shot by Callum Fordyce, which David Gray cleared from an empty net.
That was enough to energise
Livingston, who emerged from the interval with their tails up. Gary Glen, the former Hearts striker, should have done better than slice over the bar when he was clean through. Then, just short of the hour, they pulled a goal back. Oxley got just enough glove on a curling shot by Michael McKenna, but when it rebounded from the crossbar, Gallagher swept it over the line.
Hibs had their chances, most notably when Sam Stanton mishit a square ball from Harris. Then Gray, another new boy trying to find the scoresheet, curled wide after a promising exchange with Stanton.
Livingston, though, were able to work the goalkeeper with their advances. When Gray failed to deal with a relatively harmless through ball, Danny Mullen seized possession and released a low shot that Oxley parried well. Despite the outcome, McGlynn was pleased
with the way his team passed the ball, as well as with the character shown by his players in a new environment.
“That flukey goal was the difference between us getting a point and not getting a point,” he said.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, Forster, Hanlon, Stevenson, Harris, Robertson, Craig, Stanton (Kennedy 78), El Alagui, Heffernan (Cummings 78). Subs not used: Perntreou, Nelson, Allan, Booth, Tudur Jones.
Livingston: Jamieson, Kyle Jacobs, Gallagher, Fordyce, J Talbot, O’Brien, Keaghan Jacobs, McKenna, Glen (Hyppolyte 71), D Mullen (Robertson 81), J White (Burchill 81). Subs not used: Grant, Beaumont, Moffat, Rutherford.
Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 9,620.