Hibs 5-0 Ayr: Anthony Stokes and Simon Murray hit it off

Neil Lennon expressed hopes Simon Murray and Anthony Stokes could form a productive partnership. A goal each in the opening 45 minutes sent Hibs on their way to the quarter-finals and provided their manager with ample evidence of their compatibility.

Anthony Stokes pounces to make it 3-0 to Hibs. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
Anthony Stokes pounces to make it 3-0 to Hibs. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS

A further goal from Stokes just before the hour mark – on what was his first start in a year – simply underlined their potential to truly hit it off together, since it was from Murray’s cross to the back post. Efe Ambrose 
and substitute Deivydas 
Matulevicius rounded off 
the scoring.

Despite his two goals, Stokes surely had no qualms letting his younger apprentice lap up the applause when Murray was replaced, with Saturday’s game against Rangers in mind, after 63 minutes.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

On a night when the attendance perhaps suffered for competing entertainment elsewhere in the festival city, it was the Stokes And Murray show. But Stokes will allow Murray star billing, surely. Slightly lacking in finesse he might be, yet he burrowed further into Hibee affections with a ninth goal in six games. Not since Joe McBride in 1968 has a Hibs striker enjoyed a more profitable start to a career at Easter Road.

Hibs were well warned about Ayr United’s qualities. Just a cursory look at their opponents’ recent results told them all they needed to know.

Sixteen goals in their three previous outings was a telling statistic.

But Ayr’s attacking threat 
was rendered redundant by a Hibs forward line spearheaded by Murray and Stokes and augmented by Danny 
Swanson.

Ian McCall’s side have other ambitions this season. His young team, clad in a garish away kit, never looked likely to become a yellow peril for Hibs who dealt with the visitors with brutal efficiency.

This being August in Edinburgh, there was some grandstanding, however. Like a street artist on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Ambrose performed a series of backflips having put Hibs four up after 68 minutes.

Lennon’s team lined up with three centre-halves, with Ryan Porteous coming in at the back – one of four changes from Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Partick Thistle. The formation allowed Hibs to push on and pin Ayr back for large portions of a game that was beyond the League 1 side by half-time.

Stokes and Murray had struck by then, the former scoring the first goal of his third spell at the club. It will clearly still take time for Stokes, whose last start was for Blackburn Rovers against Crewe in the English League Cup last August, to gain match fitness.

Last night was his first start for Hibs since the Scottish Cup final against Rangers. He adapted to the slightly lower key circumstances, applying a gentle nod to Swanson’s flicked on corner to put his side ahead after 19 minutes.

Murray caused further 
deflation among the sizeable travelling support when he doubled Hibs’ lead on the half-hour mark.

He exhibited a good touch to take in Stokes’ clever ball through the Ayr defence and finished adeptly too, into the corner past Jordan Hart.

The striker had failed to gather two previous balls into his feet from John McGinn, allowing one of the main doubts still remaining about his game to form again – suspect touch. But his goal proved he is a work in progress, someone clearly improving in front of our eyes. There has never been any debate about Murray’s willingness to work. He will provide the perspiration, Stokes the inspiration.

Murray dropped deep to retrieve the ball if he lost it, eliciting purrs of admiration from the sparse crowd. This turned to appreciative roars when he was replaced by 
Martin Boyle after 63 minutes.

He’d just turned provider for Stokes, chipping an angled cross towards the back post, where his strike partner 
converted.

Ambrose then got in on the act after McGinn’s corner was helped towards the back post by the diving David Gray. The defender prodded the ball over the line.

Hibs completed the scoring for the night after 84 minutes through Matulevicius, who scored his first for the club after a goalmouth scramble. It capped a night when Hibs underlined their attacking capabilities.

Ayr could only stand back and admire the kind of job they’ve carried out on downhearted opponents several times themselves in recent weeks.