IF RANGERS supremo Dave King is to be believed, this match was an irrelevance.
“I honestly felt we would win this league comfortably,” he said last week – and Hibernian fans would have pounced on his use of the past tense.
Could their team pounce on it too and stay in touch with the rampant leaders? This was Hibs’ smoothest performance of the season with the new midfield gelling nicely and Liam Henderson and John McGinn scoring their first goals, although allowances should be made for the ineffectiveness of Alloa.
A “good day’s work” was how Hibs manager Alan Stubbs described the performance. He enthused about the “riches of talent” in the midfield and spoke of making Easter Road a fortress, saying: “When I came here the talk was of how the players couldn’t perform at home and we’ve addressed that.”
And King’s comments? Stubbs laughed and said: “It’s up to Rangers what they want to say. We’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of the season and we’re certainly not going to roll over for them.”
King reckons Rangers can prepare for the Premiership now. Hibs, with a niggling defeat in Dumbarton and a narrow one at Ibrox on the board already, needed to despatch a team who had doled out to them a culture-shock start to life in the Championship last term.
Alloa won their first match of this season last time out and could have scored in the opening minute, Graeme Holmes having a shot deflected over the bar.
“That was our best spell, that minute,” smiled boss Danny Lennon ruefully. His side held out until just before the interval and he admitted: “We were delighted with the way our game plan was going until that point. The operation was going well – but then the patient died.”
The Easter Road faithful, sooner or later, were going to want to be treated to a barrowload of goals, similar to the thumping wins achieved by Rangers. Certainly they have no shortage of striking options now and Jason Cummings, such a hyperactive presence normally, won’t want to have a first 45 minutes as quiet as this, given the extra pressure on the places up front.
New recruits include Islam Feruz, the Somali-born, Scotland Under-21 protege who arrived on loan from Chelsea with a controversial back-story but claiming to have discovered wisdom – only to spend a night in the cells last week following alleged driving offences. Unsurprisingly, he only made the bench.
Stubbs said he hoped that from now on the player would be appearing in headlines only for his football. The manager said: “He’s disappointed with what’s happened but we will work with him, put an arm around him and help him.”
After their sprightly start, Alloa hardly ventured forward again, allowing Hibs to have the ball and for McGinn and Dylan McGeouch to try to break them down. While these two are showing real signs of a fruitful partnership, the Alloa defence proved tough to crack and it took a peach of a long ball from McGinn to spring James Keatings, who looked set to score until falling under a double challenge.
The sun came out and it was the kind of thoroughly one-sided game where your right-back could sally forth and attempt to score with an overhead kick. Then, after McGinn almost found Keatings with another lovely pass, the striker’s diving header from a McGeouch cross bounced into the turf and over.
The breakthrough came after the Wasps had actually sent a few men over halfway. When the attack broke down McGinn found Cummings, who slapped a right foot shot which David Crawford parried into the path of Henderson for a simple tap-in.
The second goal came after Keatings had a free-kick charged down. Rather than try another shot he dinked the ball to David Gray who fed Cummings.
The angle seemed too tight and Hibs had players queueing up for a cross but Cummings will always try to score, and luckily for him the ball slithered under Crawford. If someone is going to have to give way to Feruz he didn’t want it to be him.
Then McGinn capped an excellent afternoon’s work with his goal, stroking home after a quick Henderson corner.
After that Easter Road got its first look at Feruz. The place hasn’t seen a player this diminutive since Russell Latapy and you wonder how he can see over a steering wheel.
For Alloa, the first minute of total domination must have seemed an age away. It was a tough watch for their 79 fans but the stadium announcer thanked them for their attendance and they got a nice cheer.