AS PAT Fenlon sets about a much-needed rebuilding of an Easter Road squad which has failed to deliver over the past couple of seasons, Hibs’ youngsters took the opportunity to remind their manager to take a closer look to home as they steered the Edinburgh club to an emphatic victory in the third match of their mini-European tour.
Sam Stanton, Danny Handling and Ross Caldwell will fly out with more senior team-mates to Germany and a clash with Union Berlin to conclude a testing schedule of four games in three different countries in the space of just seven days, justifiably able to reflect on the contribution they have already made. The trio of 18-year-olds scored all the goals as Hibs comprehensively dealt with a Dutch side made up of players from teams in the locality of their base in the seaside town of Vlissingen.
A double by Handling was sandwiched between strikes by Stanton – no relation, dare you ask, of Easter Road legend Pat – and Caldwell, who had also scored in Wednesday night’s opening game against Belgian outfit Lierse SK. Having suffered a 1-0 defeat by OH Leuven, a town more famously associated with Stella Artois than football, the night before, Fenlon made no fewer than ten changes. Only Alan Maybury, the former Hearts defender who remains on trial with his former club’s greatest rivals, retained his place while Stanton and Handling were handed first starts for the senior side along with goalkeeper Calum Antell.
Given the extent of the surgery conducted, it was perhaps little surprise Hibs began sluggishly in the sunshine. They eventually found their feet and Pa Kujabi took advantage of Jorge Claros’ pinpoint crossfield pass to lay the ball into the path of Stanton, who scored at the second attempt.
Leigh Griffiths, playing as a lone striker after returning to the club on another six-month loan deal from Wolverhampton Wanderers, didn’t find the net himself but could claim an “assist” for each of Handling’s two, firing the ball to the far post to present the youngster with an easy tap-in and then, after the interval, delivering a well-judged ball over the heads of the Zeeland defence for his team-mate to drill a low, first-time shot into the net.
Handling then turned provider, collecting Eoin Doyle’s deep cross before turning it into the path of Caldwell with ten minutes remaining. By contrast Antell had a less memorable afternoon, but that was down to the fact he had little to do. Other than a header by Zeeland captain Gertjan van Leiden which smacked off his crossbar, the former Welsh under-19 international only had one moment of concern, quickly getting down at the feet of John Schot after a split-second misunderstanding with captain James McPake.
Hibs might even have had a fifth when Callum Booth, playing in an unfamiliar holding role in midfield alongside Jorge Claros, stepped forward to crack in a rising drive which goalkeeper Joan van Belzen just managed to tip over. No doubt Antell would have loved something similar over the course of the 90 minutes to catch Fenlon’s eye just as his fellow youngsters had done.