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Alloa 2 Hibernian 1: Loss is hard to stomach for visitors after gutsy Alloa rally

Heads that have been spinning since the horrors suffered against Hamilton Academical in May have had to get around a very different challenge in the SPFL Championship, and it is clearly taking time.

Hibs fans let off a smoke bomb as their side are beaten. Picture: SNS
Hibs fans let off a smoke bomb as their side are beaten. Picture: SNS

Nothing accentuates Hibernian's plight more than the way the team that shocked them in that Premiership play-off penalty shoot-out has exulted in their elevation, and Saturday was merely a reminder of a lesson that should have been learned by those involved back then that at no stage, however superior they may consider themselves, can Hibs afford to switch off.

Yet listening to the post-match observations of Jason Cummings - who scored both goals when they looked to have set up a comfortable negotiation of the play-offs by winning 2-0 in Hamilton - you sense that after all the changes in personnel they are only just realising it.

Saturday's was an individual and collective repeat of that experience since he again seemed to have set his team up for victory when his nod goalwards from Matthew Kennedy's cross was deflected past Craig McDowall, the Alloa Athletic goalkeeper, by team-mate Daryll Meggatt.

Instead it was Alloa who slowly but surely took charge, Liam Buchanan levelling early in the second half before Iain Flannigan, three minutes after coming on as a substitute, produced the crispest of strikes to bend the ball into Mark Oxley's top-right corner from a free kick conceded just outside the penalty area with five minutes left.

Cummings' reaction to the loss hinted at a certain amount of bewilderment at how things have come to this. "We should be coming here and running over teams like Alloa. No disrespect but we should be. It's definitely a wake-up call for us. The boys are coming here expecting to win, but we need to do it," he said.

"Coming to places like this … it's not the best. Last season we were going to like Celtic Park and that, but we're coming here and we still need to play like we are at Celtic Park and lift our game even more because the not-so-good teams are going to raise their games."

It seems that the last few weeks, in which Hibs have lost three of their first four Championship matches - a run that is in danger of contributing to this being the club's worst calendar year in terms of results - have provided a real shock to the system.

"The players here are going to be more aggressive and, like, kick you and that," Cummings added, suggesting that opponents have been pretty brutal, to the extent of literally giving him and his team-mates a bit of a kicking. "They're definitely more ruthless, so we've got to get that side of the game as well, definitely roll our sleeves up and match them."

Thanks to the international window there is now time to digest what has happened.

"We would prefer to go into the break with a win, but it gives us a bit more time to work on the training pitch, analyse that game and get our act together," said Cummings.

With Alan Stubbs, their new manager, describing it as the worst performance on his watch and registering particular disappointment at the lack of willingness to get down and dirty once they realised that they were not going to outclass their part-time opponents on the day, it seems his charges will be more receptive to what is going to be required.

That impression was reinforced by Jordan Forster, one of the few Hibs players who did throw himself around with a real sense of desperation as well as purpose.

"The club we play for we need to come to places like this and win but we've been saying that too much," said the central defender, who carried himself, as he and other youngsters will have to this season, with a maturity beyond his 20 years. "We said it all last season and we seem to be saying it at the start of this season."

With supporters due to meet club management in a series of consultations this week, the general sense of dismay was only deepened by the incident in which free-scoring recruit Farid El Alagui was taken off on a stretcher during that first half, having landed awkwardly on the plastic Recreation Park pitch.

There were some murmurings from the Hibs ranks about the difficulties posed by that surface, but they might want to recall that their two-goal advantage in the play-off was acquired on an artificial pitch at Hamilton before they blew it on the Easter Road grass.

Total focus on Hibs' failings is also deeply unfair on an Alloa side for whom Kevin Cawley and Ryan McCord were as creative as Buchanan was energetic in posing problems for the visiting defence, particularly during the second half.

As they are coming to understand, then, Hibs - like Hearts and Rangers - are likely to inspire opponents this season as often as their better-remunerated presences intimidate them.

Time to toughen up in every way it seems.

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