After the delirium of Tuesday night’s Edinburgh derby victory, Hibs avoided returning to earth with a thump by gaining a win every bit as vital to their ambitions.
Alan Stubbs also avoided accusations of disrespect as a much-changed Hibs team earned a priceless three points, opening the scoring after just four minutes – as they did against Hearts. Martin Boyle’s goals bookended a strike from Dan Carmichael as the auxiliaries underlined Hibs’ strength in depth. It is a timely reminder that Stubbs does have options as the season reaches its business end.
So has begun a run of five games in 14 days, including a Scottish Cup quarter-final with Inverness. This does not include Hibs’ League Cup final assignment v Ross County next month, tickets for which go on sale at Easter Road today, simply increasing the sense of well-being surrounding the club.The only blot on the landscape was Rangers also taking a full quota of points yesterday in Dumfries, leaving Hibs still trailing the leaders by eight points albeit having played a game less.
READ MORE - Five things we learned from Hibs 3 - 0 Alloa
Stubbs sought to find the fine line between resting players likely to feature in the coming days while ensuring he did not threaten Hibs’ chances of gaining the required victory against Jack Ross’ improving Alloa. Indeed, how the visitors did not score yesterday remains a mystery. Stubbs was vindicated as what amounted to a B side proved too good for hard-working Alloa, whose own cup final is to come this weekend, when they play second bottom Livingston.
There was even a star-studded mini-game of one-touch for the home fans to enjoy at half-time: Kevin Thomson, John McGinn, Anthony Stokes, Darren McGregor and Jason Cummings helped make up one of the strongest benches seen at Easter Road in years. With the game already won, McGinn, Thomson and McGregor made second-half appearances to keep things ticking over ahead of Morton’s visit on Wednesday. Top scorer Cummings and prize loan acquisition Stokes were not required on this occasion.
Stubbs made seven changes to the side that defeated Hearts last week, in rather more high-octane circumstances. But make no mistake, prevailing yesterday was as crucial, probably more so. A Not So Super Sunday some had sneered, with reference to Sky Sports’ unusual keenness to bring the Scottish Championship to a wider audience. Sky does not have FA Cup rights and so looked north for some action to bring their viewers. It meant a curious scenario where a game that many felt should have been televised – last week’s Edinburgh derby – was not and one that probably shouldn’t have been, was.
Perhaps some Alloa fans stayed at home for the novelty of watching their side play a league game on satellite television. Just 80 – count ’em – were here. A couple of them were latecomers, meaning they missed Boyle’s opener. The home stands were also sparser than was the case last midweek, when Easter Road rocked to a first full house in two years. If the ground seemed very different, then so did the team. Fringe players like Carmichael and Boyle were drafted in, while Dylan McGeouch returned from injury. Stubbs also changed the formation to a more attack-minded 3-5-2, with James Keatings and Chris Dagnall paired together up front. Both could have done with a goal – Keatings after missing a golden opportunity against Hearts and Dagnall because he had yet to hit the net for his new side, something that remains the case.
No one could complain about Dagnall’s industry but he has now gone seven games without a goal for Hibs. He had several chances to rectify matters yesterday but it often seemed he was trying too hard. Boyle, on the other hand, made scoring the opening goal look very easy indeed after Liam Henderson played him in with a fine through ball. Boyle scampered on to the pass and lifted the ball over Scott Gallacher before sliding the ball into the empty net.
If conceding so quickly spelled trouble for Alloa it must be recorded that they nearly equalised two minutes later – indeed they really should have done. Ryan Finnie’s cross from the right was met by Steven Hetherington at the far post, but he was unable to direct the ball past Mark Oxley. The Hibs goalkeeper was also called upon to beat Connor McManus’ free-kick away. But Hibs were able to take a decisive two-goal lead into the interval thanks to Keatings’ classy reverse pass to Carmichael, who slipped the ball beyond Gallacher six minutes before half-time.
Boyle wrapped things up in 77 minutes with his fifth goal of a stop-start season, tapping in from close range after Dagnall’s shot was deflected into his path. The goal Alloa deserved eluded them. But they never stopped striving for it; a Mitch Megginson shot was tipped wide by Oxley and Michael Duffy should have done better than allow Marvin Bartley to intercept his intended pass to Isaac Layne after a potentially dangerous two-on-one situation developed.
Referee: N Walsh
Hibs: Oxley, Gunnarsson, Fontaine, Hanlon, Boyle, McGeouch (McGinn 67), Bartley (Thomson 78), Henderson, Carmichael, Dagnall (McGregor 81), Keatings. Subs Not Used: Gray, Stokes, Virtanen, Cummings.
Alloa: Gallacher, Finnie (Ferns 86), Hill, Marr (McAusland 46), Hamilton, Duffy, O’Brien, McManus, Hetherington, Megginson, Layne (Caddis 52). Subs Not Used: Reintam, Holmes, D Crawford, R Crawford.
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