Hibs 3, Dundee United 0: Stubbs’ men into semis

David Gray celebrates opening the scoring for Hibs. Pic: Greg Macvean
David Gray celebrates opening the scoring for Hibs. Pic: Greg Macvean
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Hibs cruised into their first League Cup semi-final since winning the trophy eight years ago as they simply blew Premiership basement outfit Dundee United away.

The Tannadice outfit couldn’t cope with yet another effervescent performance from Alan Stubbs’ side, former Hibs striker Mixu Paatelainen enduring a miserable return to his old stomping ground as United boss.

The big Finn prowled his technical area from first minute to last but was powerless as Hibs’ pace and movement tore his team apart time after time.

Only a heroic display by United goalkeeper Michal Szromnik prevented an even heavier defeat than his side suffered, the young Pole pulled off save after save to spare their blushes.

But even he was unable to do anything as Hibs captain David Gray turned to fire a 19th minute opener beyond him and he was sent the wrong way from the penalty spot as Jason Cummings claimed his 12th goal of the season after his header had been blocked by the arm of John Rankin.

And Lewis Stevenson capped off another memorable performance from this ever-improving Hibs side, his shot seconds from the end taking a huge deflection to emphasise the Capital club’s supremacy.

A year had passed since these sides last did battle at the same stage of the League Cup, United winning a sudden death penalty shoot-out after Hibs had come from behind three times to force a 3-3 draw after extra time.

However, the only similarity between then and now was the fact they continue to play in different leagues.

Back then the Tannadice outfit were one of the form teams in the Premiership while Hibs, although unbeaten in their previous six games, were still finding their feet in the Championship.

This time round Hibs were the side brimming with confidence, 11 matches unbeaten culminating in Sunday’s thrilling win against Rangers but also encompassing a notable victory over Aberdeen in this competition whereas United arrived rooted to the foot of the top table, the weekend win against Ross County only their second in their last 12 outings.

Hibs boss Stubbs was forced into one change, James Keatings starting in place of the injured Dylan McGeouch while he elected to make another, Liam Fontaine replacing Darren McGregor in the heart of his defence while former Hearts defender Adam Eckersley took a seat on the bench for the first time, joined there by Farid El Alagui, a rare sighting of the striker who has been beset by injury for the past 14 months.

Cummings had got Hibs off to a flyer against Rangers and he was keen to do so again, using Gray’s dummy run outside him to cut onto his favoured left foot to unleash a rising shot which Szromnik held comfortably.

There was little doubt Hibs were in the mood, the fingertips of Szromnik denying Keatings whose powerful left-foot shot looked netbound before Mark Durnan came up with a goal-saving block on Cummings.

Ex-Hibs midfielder Rankin deflected another effort from Keatings over but he merely delayed an opening goal for the Capital club, John McGinn taking a short corner for Fraser Fyvie to fire into the danger area, the ball falling for Gray who swivelled and dispatched an unstoppable shot beyond Szromnik from 15 yards out.

Hibs sponsors Marathonbet no doubt breathed a sigh of relief that is was the skipper and not Cummings who had opened the scoring after being hammered by Easter Road fans at the weekend, forking out some £32,000 on those who had backed the 20-year-old for the first goal and a 2-1 win.

Dominique Malonga almost added a second, Szromnik happy just to push his shot aside as United found themselves very much on the back foot as they struggled to cope with the pace and movement of their opponents.

Openings for United had been rare but Scott Fraser was presented with one when, in trying to play out from the back, Liam Henderson surrendered possession but it was instantly wasted with a shot which was high and not very handsome.

Szromnik, though, was working overtime, the young Pole doing well to beat away an inswinging corner from McGinn which threatened to catch everyone in tangerine by surprise.

However, for all their dominance Hibs only had that Gray goal to show for their efforts, a point Paatelainen would no doubt have made during his half-time talk while Stubbs would have been stressing the need for a second to his players.

It appeared Stubbs’ players had perhaps taken more notice of their manager’s words, Keatings smacking a shot off the post within a minute of the restart, an escape United almost capitalised on, Stevenson forced to nod a Ryan McGowan effort away from under his own bar.

A wonderful back heel from Malonga left the United defence spreadeagled and Cummings all alone to loft the ball over Szromnik and into the net only to find the offside flag raised against him, a marginal decision.

Szromnik again denied Keatings, beating away a powerful shot from the striker who was again playing at the head of a midfield diamond as Hibs relentlessly pursued that all-important second goal.

And it came via the penalty spot on the hour mark, referee Willie Collum having no hesitation as Cummings’ header from Henderson’s corner caught the arm of Rankin, the 20-year-old stepping up to make it six goals in as many matches in what has already been a remarkable season for him.

His goal, an astonishing 36th in only 52 starts in the green and white, gave Hibs that bit of breathing space and the chance to shut up shop, defender McGregor, who’d have considered himself unlucky not to have made the starting line-up after recent performances, replacing McGinn, a switch which saw Gray take a step forward although he’d spent much of the preceding 67 minutes racing down that right flank.

Even so, it was the Easter Road outfit who continued to carry the far greater threat, Szromnik between Cummings and yet another goal as he threw himself across to push one more shot aside – Hibs’ 21st attempt of the game, 12 of which had been on target.

Mark Oxley had, by comparison, been something of a spectator but he was determined not to give up another clean sheet, using his legs to save after United substitute Simon Murray was allowed a yard of space inside Hibs’ penalty area.

El Alagui joined the fray with five minutes remaining and passed up the chance to mark his first appearance of the season with a goal, mis-kicking after fellow substitute Martin Boyle left him with an open goal.

But a third did come, Stevenson’s shot seconds from time taking a wicked deflection to complete the demolition of United.

Hibs (4-4-2): Oxley; Gray, Fontaine, Hanlon, Stevenson; Fyvie, McGinn (McGregor 67), Henderson, Keatings (Boyle 82); Malonga (El Alagui 85), Cummings. Unused subs: Reguero, Feruz, Carmichael, Eckersley.

Dundee United (4-4-2): Szromnik; Souttar, McGowan, Durnan, Dillon; Kuhl (Murray 70), Spittal, Rankin, Fraser; McKay, Taggart. Unused subs: Zwick, Telfer, Connolly, Donaldson, Bodul, Robson.