Hibs are making heavy weather of this League Cup business. A penalty shoot-out was required to salvage a bonus point against lowly League Two side Stirling Albion and with Arbroath applying the pressure at the top of the group, another lacklustre showing, this time against part-time Alloa, was not the ideal way to bounce back.
But they did at least emerge from the debris of a difficult afternoon with all three points while two of their summer signings opened their competitive scoring accounts at Easter Road.
The Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom spoke afterwards about the plethora of scoring chances but the fact they were only able to convert two of them into goals was frustrating for the home support as was his players’ inability to address the issue themselves, get on the front foot, get in behind, use the wide players to stretch the game and do everything with a bit more zip.
That made for a tough opening 45 minutes that saw the underdogs grow in confidence and ease their way into game. But if the on-field decision making was poor at times, the decisive shift in personnel and tactics by the management staff at half-time allowed the Premiership side to turn things around.
Fraser Murray and Scott Allan came on after the interval and that gave Hibs the impetus they had lacked in the opening period, pushed Alloa back and, but for some desperate and dogged defending from the Wasps, could have given the scoreline more gloss.
Heckingbottom wanted new signings in early so that the Easter Road side could hit the ground running but they still seem to be struggling to get up to speed. New signing Tom James was full of running but it is the fee spent on striker Christian Doidge which will unsurprisingly earn the greatest scrutiny.
“He’ll score goals,” insisted his gaffer. “Sometimes we get in the trap of crossing everything for him because he’s good in the air but their two centre-backs handled him and got tight and the keeper did well with crosses, too. We were playing into their hands but Christan and the rest of the boys would have found it easier in the second half when we made more space for them.”
The striker did get the goal that proved the breakthrough after 68 minutes, finally breaching the visitors’ stern resistance, running onto a Murray through ball and getting the touch ahead of the brave Alloa keeper Neil Parry to dink it into the net. It earned him plaudits but saw the keeper leave the field with a busted nose and gash in his head which manager Peter Grant says could need plastic surgery.
The first competitive goal of Doidge’s Hibs career, it will have diluted the concerns of a home support who must have spent much of the first half scratching their heads over the club’s willingness to lay out around £300,000 on the big Welsh striker as he, along with his team-mates, struggled to penetrate an organised and determined Alloa side.
“We got there in the end,” stated Heckingbottom, happy to get the win. But he acknowledged that there is still work to be done to prepare his side for the start of the league campaign. “In the first half we were sloppy with the ball and I changed things at half-time because there were a couple of things I didn’t like. We had a tactical change of shape.
“We were playing played into their hands a bit. We had to change it to get some real width. When you look back, 20-odd efforts, 14, 15 on target and only two goals...it’s similar to last week.
“But it was pleasing seeing the new guys get goals, two good finishes. That will do them the world of good, definitely."
Doidge had a penalty shout in the 57th minute but referee Kevin Clancy failed to penalise Scott Taggart from the push on him and then headed home later in the match but saw that effort chalked off by an offside call.
By that time Hibs had taken control of the game, after a pedestrian and dull first half, but with only one goal in it and Alloa still keen to sneak something, the second goal from James killed it off.
It was a delightful finish after Stevie Mallan elected to lay it off to him rather than take a dig himself and he curled a lovely effort into the top corner to seal the points and give them the chance to leapfrog Arbroath at the top of the group when they meet on Tuesday.