Berwick Rangers had never scored a goal against Hibs in any competition before yesterday and the fatalists among the Easter Road support might have suspected that since this was the cup – which everyone and their great-great-grandmothers knows the club have not won since 1902 – the duck could be broken.
For that to happen, for Hibs to lose, Alan Stubbs’ men needed to play poorly and the Wee Rangers had to perform heroically. Berwick were never less than plucky, but Hibs simply had too much football for them and four goals were shared among Jason Cummings, Lewis Stevenson, Sam Stanton and Liam
Mind you Hibs, who’d had to come from behind to win their previous two ties, didn’t exactly set out to overwhelm their opponents from over the border. On current standings, the second-worst team in Scotland, Berwick, were allowed to play their way into the game and Mark Oxley’s flap at a corner suggested the goalkeeper, who conceded a howler in the fourth round at Alloa, might have been planning one of his more eccentric afternoons.
He wasn’t entirely convincing in dealing with an Andrew Russell shot either, as Berwick continued to show good spirit in blustery conditions, but then Hibs, who’d been slow to get going with their playmaker Scott Allan unusually quiet, struck twice in two minutes.
In the 26th minute Fontaine fed Stevenson on the left and the enterprising full-back’s threaded ball into the box caught Kerr Young flat-footed. Cummings still had a bit to do from an acute angle, but this lad is cocky enough to take on most shots and managed to dink his effort through William Bald’s legs.
Then the creator turned scorer when Stevenson, getting ever bolder, galloped into the middle of the park, played a one-two with Dominique Malonga, got lucky with a bounce and, luckier still with an expected challenge which never materialised, to demonstrate composure every bit as good as that shown by Cummings to double Hibs’ advantage.
At last Hibs were playing with a swagger and seemed determined to kill off the tie, with Fraser Fyvie sizzling a drive just over the bar. Then David Gray seemed certain to score from a deep Allan corner, only for an over-eager
Fortaine to get in his team-mate’s way and block his header.
In the Berwick dugout, player-manager Colin Cameron was prowling along the very edge of the technical area and seemed desperate to be on the pitch, helping out, steadying the team. He knows Easter Road well from Edinburgh derbies, having scored four times there for Hearts, but injury had ruled him out of this one.
Cameron had hoped the cup hoodoo would have preyed on Hibee minds. The longer the club go without another triumph, he said before the game, the more the players might think there are “outside entities stopping it happening”. But the closest Berwick would come to a goal in the first half was a shot by the industrious Lee Currie which swerved just past Oxley’s post.
There was no drop-off in the gutsiness shown by the League 2 team in the second half and rapturous acclaim from the 900-strong travelling support, some waving the Cross of St George, greeted the award of two corners in quick succession. Well, against Hibs, these fans must get their kicks where they can.
But Hibs were threatening to add to their lead almost every time they ventured forward. Allan, Fyvie, Scott Robertson and Dylan McGeouch make for a highly inventive midfield quartet. At their previous clubs, all four had not quite managed to deliver on early promise and to some extent had lost their way, but Stubbs has set up a recuperation home for them at Easter Road. And it was a McGeouch surge into the box in the 66th minute which paved the way for the third goal.
The on-loan Celtic man played in Dominique Malonga and Bald could only parry the striker’s shot, leaving substitute Stanton with an easy tap-in with his very first touch of the ball. Bald had been redoubtable for Berwick along with Jonny Fairbairn in the centre of the defence but referee Bobby Madden initially refused to acknowledge the pick of the ’keeper’s saves – from Liam Craig, another substitute – by awarding a goal kick. He was eventually persuaded that Bald had fingertipped the drive and from Stanton’s corner Fontaine powered a header home.
Berwick were beaten, and those outside entities were kept at bay. H*mpd*n awaits.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Robertson, Allan (Stanton, 63), Fyvie, McGeouch (Craig, 73), Malonga (Djedje, 80), Cummings.
Berwick: Bald, Jacobs, Drummond, Notman, Young, Fairbairn, Gray (Lavery, 63), Currie (Maxwell, 73), Russell (Henderson, 84), Gold, Willis.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS