Hibs found themselves a new hero in goalkeeper Conrad Logan this afternoon as they booked their place in the final of the Scottish Cup after a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Dundee United.
Logan was thrown in for his first match with No 1 Mark Oxley suspended and totally vindicated boss Alan Stubbs’ decision to put him in ahead of Finnish Under-21 internationalist Otso Virtanen with a string of superb saves with 120 minutes unable to separate the sides.
But Logan saved United’s first two efforts from the spot - from Blair Spittal and Billy McKay - while John McGinn, Paul Hanlon, Martin Boyle and Jason Cummings all netted for the Hibees.
And there would have been no-one more relieved than Cummings, the club’s top scorer having made a total mess of a first half penalty when the Capital club were on top.
Hibs boss Alan Stubbs made a big call prior to kick-off, opting to play Logan rather than Finnish Under-21 internationalist Otso Virtanen in goal with Mark Oxley suspended following that bizarre booking in Inverness.
Irishman Logan was signed when Hibs became aware of Oxley’s ban, the 29-year-old’s last appearance being while on loan from Leicester City to Rochdale in December 2014, but Stubbs’ decision would have come as a massive disappointment to Virtanenen who committed himself to a three-and-a-half year contract at Easter Road in January.
Skipper David Gray had, as predicted by the Evening News, won his battle for fitness to lead his team-mates out for their second visit to Hampden in little more than a month.
Despite their recent troubles Hibs looked eager from the start, pinning relegated United back inside their own half with Fraser Fyvie coming close to game’s opening goal with a long-range effort which dipped just inches over the target.
Gray was getting the run of the park on that right flank as Mixu Paatelainen’s side, who had lost 3-0 to Hibs in the League Cup earlier in the season, struggled to contain their Championship rivals.
A Gray knockdown from an Anthony Stokes cross was scuffed straight at United goalkeeper Kawashima as Cummings swivelled to shoot and another from the captain, this time from Paul Hanlon’s deep cross fell just the wrong side of Stokes.
It was United, however, who went closest to scoring in that opening 25 minutes, McKay outmuscling Hanlon to reach Chris Erskine’s flick, leaving him with only Conrad to beat but the goalkeeper brought off a terrific save, blocking his shot with his legs.
Hibs, though, should have taken the lead in the 28th minute when Donaldson’s right arm blocked Fyvie’s cross, referee John Beaton pointing immediately to the penalty spot.
But Cummings was over confident, attempting to fool Kawashima with a chip down the middle of his goal only to send it high over the bar.
It was a bad miss from Hibs top scorer, one Stubbs would be hoping wouldn’t come back to haunt his side although, initially, it didn’t look to have dented confidence, McGinn flicking a low Gray cross wide at the front post and then Stokes cutting in to unleash a rising shot which sped just over the bar.
Little had been seen of United in an attacking sense but a mix-up between Hanlon and Logan as to who should take responsibility for the ball allowing McKay to nick in only for the goalkeeper to spread himself well and block.
Hibs began the second half as they had the first, Gray’s driven cross just out of reach of Cummings before Henderson’s clever step over allowed him to take the return from Stokes only for Sean Dillon to come up with a potentially goal-saving interception..
There was little doubt, however, that Cummings’ miss had given United a bit of a lift, Erskine firing in a first time shot only to find Logan again more than equal to the task.
And then it took a goal-line clearance from Hanlon to keep Hibs on level terms, Erskine’s knockdown falling for Ryan Dow. His shot was blocked by Darren McGregor, the ball spiralling up in the air and goal-wards until Hanlon headed away.
United had cut down the amount of space they’d been offering Hibs, both Gray and Stevenson finding it more difficult to raid down the flanks as they had been, Stubbs throwing on Farid El Alagui and then Martin Boyle in an attempt to get that single goal which increasingly was looking like being enough to book a place in the final.
Four added minutes weren’t enough to separate the sides, giving them another 30 to break the deadlock.
Playing El Alagui, who had suffered a hamstring injury only 11 days ago, proved, however, to be a gamble, the striker limping off five minutes into extra time to be replaced by Chris Dagnall.
Logan again did well for Hibs, throwing himself full length to his left to touch away John Rankin’s shot as United began to gain the upper hand with many too many passes from those in green and white going astray.
The Tannadice outfit looked to have more energy as Hibs seemed to be running out of steam.
Henri Anier, who had spent the first half of the season on loan at Easter Road, had the chance to win it for United but, again Logan was unbeatable.
With 120 minutes unable to separate the sides the tie then went on to be settled in that dramatic penalty shoot-out