By Ben McNicol
Hibernian started their Betfred Cup campaign with a 3-1 win against Highland League side Brora Rangers at Easter Road.
Stevie Mallan’s two early strikes had the Premiership side in cruise control but a spirited second-half fight back from the Cattachs pushed the Hibees right till the death.
The home side came out meaning business and after Jamie Gullan squandered an early chance, his teammate Mallan clinically showed him how it’s done. The opening goal arrived on the eighth minute when Mallan intercepted a pass out from the Brora defence, before breaking clean through on goal and curling an effort beyond Joseph Malin.
It was 2-0 a couple of minutes later, an excellently crafted move down the left-hand side saw Melker Hallberg play the ball into the path of Mallan, who slammed a shot home from just inside the box. Drey Wright nearly put the Highlanders out of sight on the half-hour mark when he connected well with David Gray’s low cross, but his effort curled just wide of the far post.
Mallan was inches away from sealing his hat-trick and Hibernian’s third after 37 minutes. Gullan did well to lay the ball off to the Scottish midfielder who connected sweetly on the half-volley. However, his strike went narrowly wide of the target.
Hibs continued to dominate the play in the second half and would’ve added a third had Malin not made a fine save. Mallan’s corner from the left was headed towards goal by Darren McGregor. However, the Brora Rangers keeper reacted sharply to claw the ball off the line.
The Highland League outfit pulled one back on the hour mark with their first effort on goal of the evening, Dale Gillespie drilling home a free-kick from 20-yards beyond debutant Dillon Barnes.
Jack Ross threw on Christian Doidge and Martin Boyle, as well as handing a debut to deadline day signing Kyle Magennis as he looked to put the game beyond his part-time rivals.
Mallan was undoubtedly the Hibees star man on the evening and if anything was going to happen it certainly looked to be coming through the Scottish midfielder.
He again came close to adding that all important third goal when his free kick from the right was easily gathered the visiting goalkeeper. Malin would come to the visitors rescue with another inspirational save, tipping Gray’s powerful header over the bar from point-blank range.
Steve McKay threw on some substitutes and asked for one final effort from his side, but ultimately it was just too big an ask as the home side eventually put the game to bed in injury time. The Hibees had been knocking on the door from set-pieces all evening and it eventually came to good use as Hanlon’s powerful header burst the back of the net.
Brora Rangers put in a remarkable second-half performance considering it was their first competitive game in 7 months, but it was Hibernian who took all three points. Here are three things we learned.
Mallan stakes his claim midfield
24-year old Mallan has had probably nowhere near as much game time as he would’ve wanted this season following the arrival of Alex Gogic from Hamilton Accies and his fight with injury.
He had a chance to stake his claim this evening and despite playing against lower league opposition, put in an impressive performance in midfield, scoring two and assisting the other.
Hibs get over the line
It was a similar story to Friday for Hibernian, finding themselves in a dominant position after 20 minutes.
Manager Ross will be looking for that killer instinct to go and seal the game from his side in the upcoming League Cup and Premiership games.
Brora Rangers put in an inspirational second-half performance
Brora Rangers were denied a place in League Two at the end of last season and they would’ve been a fantastic addition to the SPFL. When the home side went 2-0 up early doors you really did fear the worst for McKay’s side, but the second half performance will have made him a very pleased man considering it was the club’s first game since March.
It will be very interesting to see how the Highlanders fare in their other Betfred Cup fixtures against Dundee, Forfar and Cove Rangers over the next period of games.