Rob Jones today urged Pat Fenlon’s Hibs side to put any thoughts of League Cup glory out of their heads and focus all their efforts on beating Hearts in tomorrow night’s quarter-final.
The former Easter Road captain, who lifted the trophy in 2007 with the Hibees, is well aware that with Celtic having already suffered a shock defeat at the hands of First Division Morton, all the Scottish Premiership clubs remaining in the competition will now believe they can go on to lift the trophy.
It’s a similar situation to the one he faced seven years ago when the Capital sides last met in the League Cup on November 8. 2006, again at the quarter-final stage. Celtic had been knocked out on penalties by Falkirk the previous night, while Rangers lost 2-0 to St Johnstone at the same time as Jones claimed the only goal in a 1-0 win over Hearts.
Although Rangers, now in League One and fighting their way back up through the ranks of Scottish football, aren’t quite the force they were back then, Jones still sees many comparisons between tomorrow night’s match the one in 2006. He said: “In [the] cup you have to worry about what’s happening in your game, not what’s going on elsewhere, just yourselves and who you are playing against. You can make things difficult for yourself if you take your eye off the ball and look too far ahead.
“I remember back then knowing Celtic were already out and then coming off having beaten Hearts to discover Rangers had also been knocked out. It blew things wide open. I’m sure it’s the same at the moment, all the teams still in it will think they have a chance, but the thing to remember is you are still three matches away from getting hold of the cup. You must focus on the here and now.”
Jones, now captain of English Championship side Doncaster, was a spectator at Hampden when Hibs were humiliated by their arch-rivals in the Scottish Cup final in May 2012, and he admits it will take some time before for those scars heal for everyone at Easter Road. However, having seen Hibs knock Hearts out of the Scottish Cup last season, he knows Pat Fenlon’s side will be desperate to do the same this time round.
He said: “These are the games everyone looks forward to. These are the games which give you the bragging rights and the fact you can knock your rivals out of the cup makes it an even more interesting scenario.
“It will take a long time to heal the wounds from that day at Hampden, but, as I’ve said, you live for the here and now and it’s a chance to beat Hearts and make progress towards, hopefully, another cup final.”
Jones remembers all too well the events at Easter Road all those years ago in a match which was only John Collins’ second as Hibs boss and one which came only a few weeks after he and his team-mates had gone 2-0 up against Hearts in just 16 minutes, only to end up having to settle for a draw.
Jones recalled: “It was only 1-0 on the night, but the scoreline flattered them. We could have scored early on, we missed a couple of chances and played some really silky football.
“John Collins had just arrived at the club. It was the chance for the players to parade their talents in front of the new manager and all those ingredients just came together on the night. I can’t remember Hearts really having too many opportunities on goal. We felt in complete control.”
The decisive first-half moment came when Hearts defenders Steven Pressley and Christophe Berra failed to deal with Merouane Zemmama’s corner, leaving Jones to lash the ball high into the net.
That was Jones’ second goal in the 2006/07 League Cup – he’d scored as Hibs steamrollered Gretna 6-0 – but he was to go on to claim a third, a typically towering header to pave the way for that memorable 5-1 win over Kilmarnock in the final. He continued: “It was a good year for me, I’d arrived in Edinburgh a bit of an unknown commodity, but I was made captain just after John Collins arrived. I scored nine or ten goals, and to cap it off by lifting the cup was incredible.
“It was a truly surreal moment. Here we were in March and it started snowing. I still have that photograph on a wall at home of me rising through the snowflakes to head home the first goal. It’s something you cherish for the rest of your life, My boys still talk about it and watch the DVD. It’s never far away from my thoughts or those of my family.”
There have been massive changes, of course, since Jones’ days at Easter Road, but he still keeps in touch with what’s going on. He said: “Change happens quickly in football and naturally everything is very different to when I was there, although young Lewis Stevenson – well, he’s still a good bit younger than me – is still there.
“I also know Michael Nelson. We played together part-time at Spennymoor and then again at Scunthorpe, but I have seen a few games and tomorrow night again I’ll be hoping the team of today can come up with the same result as all those years ago.”