Hibernian defeated Brora Rangers 3-1 in tonight’s opening Betfred Cup Group B encounter at Easter Road Stadium.
An early brace for Stevie Mallan saw Hibs race into a comfortable lead with the home side going on to carve out numerous opportunities to extend their advantage.
Chances came and went without Hibs taking any of them, so when Dale Gillespie scored a fine free-kick on the hour the Highland League side were handed a lifeline.
However, in the closing moments of the match Paul Hanlon netted from a Mallan corner to assure Hibs of the victory and all three points.
Jack Ross used tonight’s match to give game time to some players that have not regularly featured this term. Skipper David Gray and Darren McGregor got their first taste of competitive action since early February, while there were first starts of the season for Mallan and Jamie Gullan.
Hibs handed debuts to Dillon Barnes and Stephen McGinn, while new signing Kyle Magennis took his place amongst the substitutes. He was joined on the bench by goalkeeping coach Craig Samson with Kevin Dabrowski out on loan at Dumbarton and Paddy Martin working his way back from injury.
The home side did not waste any time and attacked from the start. In the opening moments Mallan’s corner kick was knocked down by McGregor to Gullan just in front of goal. The young striker, who had his back to goal, instinctively spun and hooked a shot at goal that agonisingly drifted just wide.
The deadlock was broken in emphatic fashion after only eight minutes when Mallan robbed Colin Williamson of possession deep inside the Brora half before turning Mark Nicolson inside-out and hammering a right-foot effort behind Joseph Malin and into the net.
Four minutes later and the midfielder had his second goal of the evening. Melker Hallberg and Jamie Murphy played a neat one-two on the left flank before the former squared to Mallan on the edge of the area and delivered a powerful low finish into the net.
Hibs were rampant and unfortunate not to extend their advantage soon after when Gullan rose highest to connect with Gray’s terrific delivery and headed just wide of the far post with Malin beaten.
Drey Wright, Hallberg and Mallan all had good opportunities for Hibs before the break, however none were able to find a way beyond Malin in the Brora goal as the visitors defended stoutly.
Murphy was one of only three players to keep their place from last Friday’s win over Hamilton Academical and he enjoyed an excellent first-half showing, however the second half had only just started when he went down with what appeared to be a hamstring injury and was replaced by Martin Boyle.
There was little change to the balance of play after the break with goalkeeper Malin at his best to acrobatically keep out a fine back-post header from McGregor, following Mallan’s corner kick delivery.
Against the run of play - and with their first shot on goal of the evening – Brora reduced the deficit. Hanlon was adjudged to the have fouled Jordan Macrae and Gillespie produced a stunning finish from the free-kick to beat Barnes.
Hibs were soon back on the attack and unlucky not to restore their two-goal lead when substitute Christian Doidge was denied by a last-gasp block and from the resultant corner kick, Gray’s diving header was acrobatically pushed over the crossbar by Malin.
Top scorer Kevin Nisbet was introduced for the closing stages and quickly worked himself into good shooting position, however failed to get the power or direction on his effort to trouble Malin.
Despite their dominance Hibs’ advantage was still a slender one and a rising effort from Paul Brindle was a stark reminder – if one was needed – that the match was still there to be won and lost.
With two minutes remaining Hibs made sure of victory when Hanlon stooped to score from close range from Mallan’s corner kick and in doing so netted his second in as many games.
Only a terrific save from Malin denied the home side a fourth goal in time added on when Gullan weaved a path into the Brora box and angled a fine strike towards the far corner of the net only for the keeper to push it away at full stretch with his fingertips.
In the end it was a good, dominant performance from Hibs with some players getting much-needed game time.
Hibernian: Barnes, Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson, Hallberg (Nesbit 77), S. McGinn (Magennis 60), Wright (Doidge 60), Mallan, Murphy (Boyle 49), Gullan. Substitutes not used: Samson, P. McGinn, Mackie, Bradley, Shanley.
Brora Rangers: Malin, Pickles (N. MacDonald 89), A. MacDonald, Williamson (Gamble 89), Nicolson, Gillespie (G. MacDonald 82), Kelly, MacLean, J. Macrae, A. Macrae (Wagenaar 82), Morrison (Brindle 73). Substitutes not used: C. Macrae, Stephen.
Referee: Alan Muir.
Report: Richard Payne.