It was hugely pleasing waking up this morning knowing our place in the last four of the Scottish Cup has been secured for a second consecutive season. Our second fixture against Kilmarnock in the space of four days proved just as entertaining as the first, only this time around we got the result we all wanted – and deserved.
Turning attention firstly to last Wednesday’s fixture, hauling ourselves level at 1-1 to then concede a second strike just 60 seconds later must have been hugely deflating for the players, but give credit where it’s due as they managed to rally themselves to earn a share of the spoils.
With little separating the sides in that league clash, yesterday’s Scottish Cup tie appeared a difficult one to call. We all know that two fixtures are never quite the same in football and I think Hibs rose to the challenge and put in a performance that merited us the victory.
Many professionals have built a reputation on these sorts of occasions and thrive on the pressure and intensity that surrounds the excitement of this competition. The Scottish Cup is the pinnacle of the football season and our failure to win this trophy in more than a century is the biggest disappointment in the club’s history. There is always added pressure when this competition comes around but after the defeat at Hampden last May to our local rivals, there is an extra incentive on the players to rewrite the history books.
Cup football is all about going through to the next round. Of course the manager and supporters want to see an attractive winning side out on the park but with regards to the Scottish Cup, I don’t think the majority of Hibs fans will care how we get there, just as long as we do.
On the back of the 2-2 draw at Easter Road, the players may have been a little tentative heading to Rugby Park yesterday afternoon, but the sight of the large travelling support would have been a little reminder of the enormity of the task they faced. I felt it was a fantastic performance from Hibs and we fully deserve to be in the hat for the next round. Despite Kilmarnock being unintentionally helpful to the Hibs attack with some lapses in defending, we took our chances when they came and responded in the correct manner after our opponents levelled the game on two occasions.
The squad deserve all the plaudits as nothing is won with just one individual but there is little doubt that the movement and prowess of Leigh Griffiths cannot go unnoticed. From the very first minute, the striker chased every ball down and pressurised the Kilmarnock defence into so many unforced errors. To leave a player of this calibre one-on-one on so many occasions throughout the 90 minutes was criminal from the home side.
I have to pay tribute to the size of the Hibs support which travelled through in such big numbers and created such a fantastic atmosphere within the ground. There is nothing better than looking over to where your own supporters are housed at the end of the match and going to join in the celebrations. Pat Fenlon now has the opportunity to lead the club into back-to-back cup finals if we can overcome our next hurdle in the semi-final. Of course we have had our ups and downs since the manager took charge at the end of 2011 but he deserves huge credit for his achievements on this front.
Scottish Cup fever will inevitably sweep the corridors of Easter Road in the next six weeks prior to our date at Hampden. There will be a number of players in the squad relishing their first trip to the national stadium, but for now it is important we refocus our attentions back to league duty as we face another massive fixture this weekend against Hearts. Our quest for a place in the top six is becoming increasingly tight with little separating the teams in and around us. We must look to make home advantage count.