IN the end, it all went off rather peacefully. Supporters arrived on time with minimal travel disruption, no trouble inside Hampden, no real controversy of note to grab the attention.
Just a momentous and rampant Hearts performance.
For a support dragged through the mill more times than a baggy woolly jumper that season, defeat to their Capital rivals and the subsequent concession of a Scottish Cup final place would surely have been too much to stomach.
It was as if God himself had peered down on Glasgow’s south side around midday, and after pondering the travails involved in following Hearts that season opted to grant a bunch of truly loyal supporters one truly unforgettable afternoon.
Of course, the Great One was aided and abetted by Paul Hartley, who delivered three moments of divine intervention himself. The consequence for Hibs fans was another Hampden disappointment, one that still ranks as one of their list of cruelest and most painful days following their club.
Yet, their side began the day almost in dominant pose. In the 28 minutes preceding Hartley’s nonchalant opener, Hibs had enjoyed the bulk of possession and had Hearts virtually hemmed inside their own half. There were decent chances for Gary Caldwell and Ivan Sproule, with a Steven Whittaker drive sandwiched in between that brought a crucial fingertip save from Craig Gordon.
Hearts, in truth, appeared most in danger of conceding the first goal of the afternoon when they promptly ran up the park and scored it. Rudi Skacel dispossessed the Hibs debutant Abdessalam Benjelloun midway inside his own half and fed instantly to the energetic Hartley. His pass out to the left side found Edgaras Jankauskas in space, but the eye was drawn to Hartley as he continued his penetrating run into the Hibs penalty area. Jankauskas’ return was in the form of a precise cross for the Scotland midfielder to flick with the outside of his right boot, and once the ball had crept past Zibi Malkowski and crossed the goal line via the inside of the post, the Hearts celebrations got under way.
His second arrived on 59 minutes, bringing an almost impish look to the face of the former Hibs player.
With Malkowski, and to be fair most of the 43,000 inside Hampden, expecting Hartley’s left-sided free-kick to be curled into the penalty area to prompt an aerial contest, the midfielder caught the goalkeeper by surprise and swung the ball into the net at the near post.
His third from the penalty spot came three minutes from time after Gary Smith had tugged the shirt of Hearts substitute Michal Pospisil, although the offence occurred outside the penalty area.
Smith was instantly dismissed for conceding a professional foul but by that time it was academic, as Malkowski had endured his second nightmare moment only seven minutes previously when he appeared slow to emerge from his box to clear a Rudi Skacel long ball. The reactions of striker Jankauskas were quicker, and he took the ball off the Pole’s toe before rolling in the third.
There only genuinely nasty incident during the match occurred at a vital juncture.
On 77 minutes, with Hearts 2-0 ahead and Hibs seeking an avenue that would take them back into the contest, Sproule and Saulius Mikoliunas clashed in a tackle and the Lithuanian fell to the turf.
Sproule hadn’t fouled his opponent, so what prompted him to blatantly stamp on Mikoliunas’ lower back as he attempted to retrieve the loose ball can only be speculated upon.
Stuart Dougal issued a deserved instant red card, and Hibs manager Tony Mowbray must have known then that the game, and their Scottish Cup dreams, were over.
Smith’s ordering-off merely compounded the dejection, but by that stage the Hearts end was in full voice.