Hibs 1-0 Birmingham: Neil Lennon hails fringe stars

Hibernian's Scott Martin, left, battles with Birmingham's Andrew Shinnie. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS Group
Hibernian's Scott Martin, left, battles with Birmingham's Andrew Shinnie. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS Group
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As is customary at Easter Road, the full-time whistle was preceded by an almost Hitchcockian flock of seagulls looking to feast on the scraps of grub left behind by wasteful punters.

However, it was Hibernian manager Neil Lennon who was afforded food for thought after his largely second-string side secured a fine victory over SkyBet Championship outfit Birmingham City.

James Keatings was typically clinical in front of goal, deciding a thoroughly watchable contest on the hour with a sharp turn and finish from a prohibitive angle in the box.

Martin Boyle, who struck the crossbar, and Danny Carmichael also turned in fine performances as Hibs made ten changes from the side which started Thursday night’s 1-0 win against Brondby, with most ably staking their claim.

It must be noted that Hibs are much further ahead in their planning for the new domestic campaign than Birmingham, who made a swathe of substitutions in the second half. Nevertheless this was another heartening afternoon for the new boss.

“To go out there and stake their claim for a place – that was the challenge we threw down to them at the start of the game and none of them disappointed,” said Lennon.

“I’m really pleased. I got every­thing I wanted from it. The condition of the players looks really good and the football was great. It was a very high standard.

“It’s pre-season and difficult to gauge where Birmingham are compared to us but, judging my own team, there were a lot of really good things to come out of that game.

“I hope it will be a busy week in terms of getting people in – but I’ll be loathe to take players out after what I saw against Birmingham.”

Only Liam Fontaine kept his place following the agonising exit on penalty kicks in Copenhagen; a heroic effort over 120 minutes which certainly merited some respite for those who went the 
distance.

There was a familiar face in the crowd at Easter Road as the man who guided Hibs to their first Scottish Cup triumph in 114 years, Alan Stubbs, returned to Edinburgh on a watching brief on behalf of new club Rotherham United.

And he saw his former club almost claim the lead after just three minutes. A hopeful ball into the box appeared to be destined for the arms of Tomasz Kuszcak, only for Stephen Gleeson to skew a clearance over the head of the Birmingham goalkeeper and on to the roof of the net.

Boyle, a substitute and successful penalty taker in Denmark, then threatened with a sharp drive from 25 yards which stung the palms of the former Manchester United custodian.

The Poland international was undoubtedly Birmingham’s standout performer in a first half dominated by Hibs’ second string and only a superb point-blank save with his legs denied the hosts an opener when Fontaine met an Alex Harris corner.

As the second period commenced, Hibs striker Danny Handling took his place in the stand on crutches following another galling injury blow for a player who missed the entirety of last season with cruciate knee ligament damage.

“Danny has taken a bang but is not a cruciate problem, it is more an issue with the cartilage,” said­ ­Lennon.

“We are looking at four to six weeks. He isn’t having much luck at the minute.

“Sometimes when you have these long-term injuries you can get additional little niggles and bangs.

“He has just taken a little twist and, at first, we thought ‘oh, he’s in trouble again’ but thankfully it’s a different issue.”

Birmingham appeared to emerge with renewed impetus after the break as former Hibee Clayton Donaldson and Jacques Maghoma both fired narrowly off target after slick moves.

However, that would prove a false dawn as Hibs claimed the lead on the hour mark, when Boyle slipped the ball inside the box to Keatings, who spun on a sixpence before lashing a fine finish into the roof of the net.

Keatings almost returned the favour when he found Boyle with a deep cross, only for the former Dundee man to head against the bar.

“I thought Hibs were bright and look a really good side,” added Birmingham boss Gary Rowett. “I know they had several first-teamers absent and it looks like they have a really strong squad.”