Berwick prove no real danger as Hibs give themselves boost ahead of derby

lower-league sides have spelled danger for Hibernian in the cups over the last couple of seasons but last night they were never in trouble against Third Division Berwick. An early goal from Martin Scott settled any nerves that Colin Calderwood’s team might have had after their recent travails in the SPL and another before half-time from Akpo Sodje all but wrapped up this Scottish Communities League Cup second-round game.

Further strikes from Garry O’Connor and Scott early in the second half ensured Hibs were able to treat the latter stages of the match as a training exercise. They might have added several more goals had a touch of slackness not crept in. They did come to life again in the closing minutes when Ivan Sproule got on the end of a long cross-field ball and shot low for his team’s fifth. All in all, it was close to being an ideal evening for Calderwood as he looks ahead to Sunday’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.

Nevertheless, some of the defensive shortcomings which have cost Hibs dearly in the league were again in evidence and it goes without saying that Hearts are far more capable of punishing such lapses than Berwick were. The slackness at the back was clear as early as the opening minute, when Sean O’Hanlon gave the ball away. That led to Fraser McLaren being put through but he lacked the confidence to shoot and an attemped pass to Damon Gray went out for a goal kick.

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“You’re getting sacked in the morning,” a small but vocal band of Berwick fans chanted at Hibs manager Colin Calderwood, hoping their team had the home side rattled. That hope remained alive when Jamie Barclay got down well to save from Sodje after the striker had been played in by O’Connor but, just two minutes later, Hibs were ahead.

As Berwick defended deep, Sproule passed to Scott on the right. Looking up, the former Ross County player shot from 30 yards and found the far corner of the net with Barclay unable to get a hand to the ball. Suspecting the prospect of an upset had just gone, the away fans changed their tune. “You’re getting sacked at the weekend,” they sang, suggesting that Hearts would apply the coup de grace which their team could not.

Lee Currie, one of several ex-Hibs men in the Berwick squad, almost added a second for his old team after half an hour. Sliding into the box to intercept a pass to O’Connor, he miscued and was fortunate to see the ball rebound off the post.

After off-target long-range efforts from Danny Galbraith and Victor Palsson, Hibs reverted to their earlier tactic of playing the ball into space for Sodje and it paid dividends just before half-time. Sproule fed O’Connor who passed to Sodje, and the Londoner knocked the ball cleanly past Barclay from ten yards out.

In a sign of satisfaction at the way things were progressing, Calderwood gave a competitive debut to Scott Smith at the start of the second half in a straight swap at left-back with Calum Booth. The Scotland under-19 international had barely had time for a couple of touches before Hibs had extended their lead, with a fine cross from the right by Sproule being headed in from point-blank range by O’Connor. A decoy run from Sodje had helped make space for the goalscorer, and the burgeoning understanding which the strikers showed was one of the most encouraging aspects of the evening from a Hibs point of view.

Smith then almost made it a debut to remember with a fiercely-struck shot on the run, but Barclay tipped the ball on to the crossbar and over. Minutes later, however, the goalkeeper was beaten a fourth time, as Scott made space on the right before driving home a low shot.

A game which had begun with a hint of promise for Berwick turned into an endurance test in the remaining half-hour.

For Hibs, by contrast, it was a chance to enjoy some new-found confidence in the most benign of circumstances, with teasing crosses from Smith and that clinically-finished goal from Sproule the most impressive aspects of their attacking play in that long final act of the match.