Scottish League Cup: Hibernian and Motherwell eye strong start to campaign

Hibs' Simon Murray (right) celebrates scoring against Sunderland
Simon Murray (right) scored for Hibs in a 2-2 draw with Sunderland

Hibernian's Neil Lennon hopes pre-season results are a prelude to Scottish League Cup success while Motherwell's Stephen Robinson will look to improve on results over the summer.

The competition kicked off on Friday evening as Ayr United beat neighbours Kilmarnock 1-0 in Group E.

And the cup gets into full swing on Saturday, with 15 more games.

Well have lost to two English National League sides in pre-season, while Hibs' games included a draw with Sunderland.

Lennon's side beat Dunfermline Athletic and Berwick Rangers in pre-season and will host Montrose in the Group D match.

"I was never a lover of pre-season when I played and as a manager I never paid to much attention to the results either," lennon told HibsTV.

"It was all about getting the players fit, but I've been pleased so far. The players have done very well.

"We know what is ahead of us and we know what's at stake in the Betfred Cup. We want to go as far in the competition as we can, if not win it."

Nigeria defender Efe Ambrose will not feature against the Gable Endies after arriving back at training two days late with the Edinburgh club.

The 28-year-old, who was signed from Celtic this summer, said his delay was because of a personal matter. Lennon said this has now been resolved.

It is the second year of the new League Cup group-stage format, with Premiership rivals Ross County hosting League One's Alloa Athletic in Saturday's other Group D game.

Motherwell are the top seeds in Group F, but the squad that is being reshaped by Robinson [nine players have arrived with 16 exiting] have suffered defeats by Gateshead and Barrow.

"The cup competition comes really, really early," the Well manager said before their trip to face League One side Queen's Park.

"I would rather have people 100% ready, but everybody's in the same boat.

Motherwell striker Louis Moult
Louis Moult remains with Motherwell despite a bid from Aberdeen

"We will get better, especially our understanding. We brought in nine players and potentially one or two more.

"I think we need a bit of an injection of pace in the top end of the pitch, but we probably have to move people on first."

One player Robinson has no intention of losing is Louis Moult, and the manager insisted the striker is ready to give 100% despite a rejected bid from Aberdeen.

Group H top seeds Partick Thistle face a tricky opener at home to Livingston, who won promotion to the Championship.

Thistle midfielder Stuart Bannigan is close to a return after 15 months on the sidelines through injury, but the 24-year-old is unlikely to feature as manager Alan Archibald is wary of rushing his recovery.

Archibald is already without right-back Mustapha Dumbuya, who is facing a couple of months on the sidelines after having surgery on an injury.

Fellow defender Niall Keown is also doubt after picking up a knock before leaving Reading.

Archibald has therefore been forced back into the transfer market to find a new right-back as well as a new striker after Ade Azeez departed for Cambridge United.

With Aberdeen, holders Celtic, Rangers and St Johnstone not featuring until the next round because they were in European competition, Hamilton Academical are the other top-flight side in action on Saturday.

They made their first signing of the close season on Friday, with French central defender Xavier Tomas joining for an undisclosed fee from Swiss club Lausanne-Sport.

However, the 31-year-old will not feature away to Lowland League champions East Kilbride as he requires international clearance.

Saturday's fixtures

Group A

Falkirk v Stirling Albion

Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Brechin City

Group B

Dunfermline Athletic v Elgin City

Peterhead v East Fife

Group C

Cowdenbeath v Buckie Thistle

Dundee United v Raith Rovers

Group D

Hibernian v Montrose

Ross County v Alloa Athletic

Group E

Clyde v Annan Athletic

Group F

Berwick Rangers v Greenock Morton

Queen's Park v Motherwell

Group G

East Kilbride v Hamilton Academical

Stenhousemuir v Queen of the South

Group H

Livingston v Partick Thistle

Stranraer v St Mirren

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