Falkirk ‘will be Hibs’ toughest challenge yet’

Hibernian captain James McPake. Picture: SNS

Hibernian captain James McPake. Picture: SNS

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CAPTAIN James McPake 
today claimed Hibs face their toughest game yet as they bid to steer their way past First Division Falkirk and into the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup for the second season running.

The Easter Road outfit have already negotiated a difficult route to Saturday’s semi-final clash at Hampden, taking some measure of revenge for their 5-1 defeat by Hearts last May by knocking their Capital rivals out before doing the same to Aberdeen and then Kilmarnock.

In contrast, the Bairns have had, on the face of it, a much easier ride, beating Stenhousemuir, Forfar and Hamilton. McPake argued, however, that Falkirk will prove to be just as formidable opponents as any of the three SPL sides Hibs have beaten so far.

The big defender said: “We’ve had a tough cup run, Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock in that order. It’s not been easy. We have done well, but probably the hardest game is coming up on Saturday.

“It’s the semi-final, there’s a lot of expectation on us going into the game but it’s as massive for them as it is for us. It’s a game we have to win. We’ve won our last three, but they are done and dusted – the hardest game is always the one coming up.

“The semi-final of cups are normally hard games, probably the toughest round to go into it and play when all the expectation is on you and everyone wants you to get to the final.”

McPake admitted, however, that he and his team-mates have to recapture their form having suffered the bitter disappointment of missing out on a top-six finish despite having been in the top half of the SPL table for much of the season.

He said: “We wanted a good cup run and ultimately we wanted to finish in the top six. We have not done that, but we cannot dwell on the fact. Our aim now is to finish seventh, win that mini-league and try to win the Cup. In the last five or six weeks we have not been good enough, but when you look back the work-rate,

everything has been there.

“It’s been a case at the minute of things not going for us. We know we have not been playing well and that’s something we have to change come Saturday.”

To that end, McPake called on his team-mates to recall their performance against Aberdeen at the same stage of last season’s competition, a match Hibs won thanks to goals from Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths. He said: “I wouldn’t say that was the prettiest of games, but it was professional from us and that’s the way we need to be this weekend.

“We have to get away from what we have been doing and do what we have not been doing in the last few weeks – and that’s to get the ball down and play the way we had been at the start of the season. If we can do that then I am sure everything will be okay.”

Asked what he expected of Falkirk, apart from the lift the arrival of new boss Gary Holt may bring to the Bairns, McPake said: “I think they will be lively. They are a decent side and to my mind there’s not too much between the divisions. Everyone will be trying to

impress the new manager and they will be up for it.

“I watched Queen of the South beat Aberdeen in the semi-final a few years ago so I don’t think what division you are in counts for anything in a game like this.”

And McPake refuted the

notion that Falkirk may be something of an unknown quantity, insisting Hibs backroom staff have been hard at work building up a complete dossier of their opponents. He said: “Manchester United might only play Real Madrid once or twice every four or five years, but I can guarantee you they know everything about every Real Madrid player and what they do.

“That’s what we have been doing. We have the people in our club who will know everything about Falkirk. We are getting fed that information daily, bits and pieces on what they do and what their players are like so that’s not a problem.”