Such is the convoluted nature of the revamped Betfred Cup that whether this constituted a victorious start to the season for Hibernian or not depends on an individual’s subjective viewpoint.
The positives, then, for Paul Heckingbottom from a fraught afternoon away to Stirling Albion included his players holding their nerve to prosper in the penalty shoot-out to claim a Betfred Cup bonus point and an encouraging performance from Daryl Horgan.
On the flip side, the fact the match went beyond the 90 minutes at all was an evident source of annoyance for the Hibs manager, who felt his side lacked the necessary composure in front of goal that would have made this a far more comfortable afternoon.
David Wilson’s exquisite second-half equaliser for Stirling may have come against the run of play, but that did not placate the Hibs manager, who cut a frustrated figure. “We made it really difficult,” he said, while admitting Hibs’ pursuit of Funso Ojo was now over. “Every game away from home in the cup is tough. But it shouldn’t have been difficult because we created chances we should be putting away. We’re pleased we’re creating them but we have to be clinical.”
Among those squeezed in to three sides of Forthbank was Ron Gordon, Hibs’ new American owner.Presumably trips to bijou League Two grounds wasn’t a huge selling point ahead of the deal but Gordon looked happy to be here.
Hibs, though, are all business right now. Heckingbottom, at the start of his first full season in charge, has wasted no time in moulding his squad. All six of his new signings to date started here, including Scott Allan on his return for a third stint at Easter Road. There was particular focus on Christian Doidge. Centre forwards tend to capture most of the attention anyway, but the fact that Hibs have been minded to shell out £300,000 to prise the Welshman away from Forest Green Rovers added additional intrigue for the large travelling support.
Doidge came closest to marking his debut with a goal in a stodgy but competitive first half, his header from Horgan’s cross expertly parried by Blair Currie in the Stirling goal.
Currie should have been beaten, however, seven minutes before the break after another sumptuous cross from Horgan was somehow headed wide by debutant Joe Newell at the back post.
Newell’s blushes, though, would be spared a minute before half-time as Hibs moved in front in contentious circumstances.
Under old legislation Stevie Mallan’s free kick on to the arm of Paul McLean would have been dismissed as accidental but under new IFAB guidelines that now constitutes a penalty. Stirling could scarcely believe it – there will be a lot of that this season – but Allan was unmoved as he tucked it home.
“If it’s hit his hand then by the letter of the law it’s now a penalty,” said Stirling manager Kevin Rutkiewicz. “But it’s going to create a lot of controversy. They’re asking people to defend with their hands behind their backs, which is unrealistic.”
A second goal continued to evade the visitors despite their sustained dominance throughout the second period. Doidge was unfortunate to see his goalbound header blocked from a Mallan corner, while Horgan couldn’t steer his shot on target after breaking through Stirling’s high defensive line.
That profligacy would come back to haunt Hibs when their hosts equalised with their first shot on target after 69 minutes. Substitute Craig Truesdale teed up Wilson and his curling effort from 25 yards soared high into the top corner. That took the game into a shoot-out where Truesdale missed the decisive kick in sudden death, handing a bonus point to Hibernian. But it was a day of mixed emotions for all concerned.