Hibs’ season began amid acrimony, humiliation and a huge sense of letdown some ten months ago while a jubilant band of visiting supporters partied heartily in the lower tier of Easter Road’s South Stand.
It ended yesterday in similarly harrowing fashion for the Edinburgh club.
Malmo sparked this calamitous campaign for Hibs with a 9-0 aggregate thrashing in the Europa League, and yesterday Hamilton Accies arrived in Leith to apply the finishing touches.
In an abject season bookended and regularly punctuated by catastrophe, there was a sense of inevitability in the air by the time Jason Cummings’ penalty miss signalled the end of the line in the Scottish Premiership for this desperately brittle Hibs team.
It was ironic that on the day they slipped out of the top flight, more than 17,000 Hibs fans turned out to remind onlookers that another of the biggest clubs in the country would be vacating the Premiership to make way for a small Lanarkshire club who barely brought 1000 fans 45 minutes along the road for the biggest game of their season.
Three of the five biggest club stadiums in Scotland will now host Championship football, with Hibs joining Hearts and Rangers in the second tier. Size of ground, however, matters little these days, with no end of vibrant smaller clubs upstaging their more illustrious foes all across the football landscape.
Certainly the 20,000-capacity Easter Road Stadium has counted for nothing for Hibs, especially this season.
Every other team has seemed to relish visiting Easter Road; Hibs, by contrast, have routinely retreated into their shell when running out on home soil.
Apart from the New Year derby against Hearts, it is hard to recall a genuinely rousing occasion this season for Hibs fans at Easter Road.
Malmo, in the first home game of the season, should have been the nadir. That it wasn’t the outright low point merely underlines how dismal this season has been.
Prior to yesterday’s humbling at the hands of Hamilton, there were also the two home defeats against doomed rivals Hearts, the Scottish Cup defeat at home to Raith Rovers, the first-half capitulation against St Mirren in January and the ominous last-day defeat at home to Kilmarnock when a victory would have saved them from the trauma of this two-legged play-off against Accies.
For all that there had been a sense that Hibs were sleepwalking towards the Championship, they seemed to have awoken from their slumber just in time to save themselves when they beat Hamilton 2-0 at New Douglas Park last Wednesday.
Accies arrived at Easter Road yesterday seemingly with no hope and priced at 12/1 with bookies to turn the tie around.
Hibs fans have endured enough kicks in the teeth down the years not to take anything for granted, but surely the bumper crowd that turned up yesterday were entitled to expect their team to negotiate the second leg with minimum anxiety. Not a bit of it.
Any confidence they might have gathered from their midweek victory appeared to have evaporated by kick-off as they reverted to being the timid, nervy bunch who have been so easily rolled over on so many occasions this season.
Hamilton, buoyed by the knowledge that they had absolutely nothing to lose, seized on the edginess in the home ranks and pinged the ball about with menace and purpose early on.
It was typical of Hibs’ season that Jason Scotland shot the visitors into the lead just seconds after the fate-tempting home support had started serenading the stocky Trinidadian about how “ten men couldnae carry, couldnae carry Scotland”.
Hibs making things easy for themselves in a big game? Fat chance. Even when they looked like they might be closing in on a 1-0 defeat, which would have been enough to keep them in the top flight, there was never at any point a genuine feeling that Accies were finished.
When they forced their second goal with virtually the last kick of the match, the boos rained venomously down from the home stands, further exacerbating the plight of a forlorn bunch of players who were never going to benefit from being jeered by their own.
Hibs roused themselves from this savage stoppage-time blow to at least compete with an Accies side who looked like they were running out of steam, but, with the 18-year-old Cummings by now the only out-and-out Hibs attacker left on the field, they never looked like getting their noses back in front.
When the ever-confident fans’ favourite Kevin Thomson, who had been loudly cheered on to the pitch as a second-half substitute, missed Hibs’ first kick of the shootout, it was hard to escape the feeling that the game was up for Butcher’s boys.
Then Mickael Antoine-Curier, the Accies hitman deemed a misfit by Mixu Paatelainen during his time at Easter Road, dinked in his penalty with an impudence that no Hibs player would have had the nerve to try in the circumstances.
It summed up the worst day yet of an utterly forgettable campaign for Hibs that their first-leg hero ended up missing the crucial last kick, sparking a period of utter bewilderment as all those inside Easter Road tried to comprehend what had just unfolded.
As realisation set in, the angry protests against all and sundry at the club duly followed out the back of the stands, but no-one was protesting that Hibs didn’t deserve to go down.