Hibs fringe players grab opportunity to impress as they defeat Brora Rangers 3-1
Stevie Mallan struck two goals to ensure a positive start to Hibs’ Betfred Cup campaign and also gave his manager food for thought.
He wasn’t the only one, though, as the battle for midfield places heightened.
Newcomer Kyle Magennis was given his debut but he had to be patient, only joining the action in the 60th minute Instead it was Hibs’ other St Mirren acquisitions who were given their chance in the middle of the park as the home side got off to a comfortable start against Brora Rangers.
While one of the club’s Paisley alumni, Stephen McGinn, was given his first start, and was tasked with anchoring the midfield, and offering the defence the kind of protection usually provided by Alex Gogic, fellow Buddies graduate Mallen operated in front of him, finding the gaps and the finishes required to rush the Premiership side into a two-goal lead in the opening 11 minutes.
Up against a side operating four tiers below them, the advantage was expected but welcome as it allowed the Leith players to settle into the job of convincing manager Jack Ross that they deserve a more integral role when league games resume.
This was a reshuffling of the pack, partly through necessity as four of Ross’ regulars occupied themselves with international commitments, while Joe Newell continues to recuperate from the shoulder injury sustained in Friday’s league victory over Hamilton.
The limited role played by this group of players in the club’s bright start to the season was illustrated by the fact that of the starting XI, scorer of the third goal, Paul Hanlon had ten starts under his belt, while the men around him had managed just eight between them.
In guys like Dave Gray, Darren McGregor, Ross must have known what he would get but it was the men ahead of them who had the most to gain from this outing.
Coming in from the cold, Mallan, McGinn and Hallberg needed the platform, as did young Jamie Gullan, for whom lockdown came at the worst time.
Aware of how well Kevin Nisbet and Christian Doidge have been doing, the youngster was perhaps a tad too desperate to make up for lost time and impress Ross. Two early efforts went wide and both left him with his head in his hands, the frustration obvious.
Hallberg, though, did his reputation no harm. Playing in a more advanced role than has been the chase for most of his Hibs career, while it should be remembered that he was up against lower league opposition, he still appeared far more comfortable there.
It wasn’t just the cutback for the second of Stevie Mallan’s two goals, it was the movement and diagonals as he burst through the Brora backline, finding space and demanding the ball.
Since his arrival at Hibernian in August 2019 he has struggled to win over the fans and was marked out as one of those they regarded as dispensable in the recent transfer window.
But, in a different position and with two years still on his contract he used this game to demonstrate that he may yet prove an asset. With two more cup games pending, he needs to use them to reinforce that message before the men who have been Ross’s first choice options return.
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