Hampden has been heaven and hell for Scott Robertson, the ecstasy of winning the Scottish Cup soured by the ignominy of being “hooked” barely half-an-hour into this season’s semi-final as First Division Falkirk threatened to end Hibs’ dream of glory for yet another year.
Pat Fenlon’s side were reeling, three goals down and seemingly out as the Easter Road boss took decisive action, replacing Robertson, who had passed up a glorious chance to cancel out Craig Sibbald’s sixth-minute opener, with teenager Danny Handling. Robertson was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team-mates embarked on “mission impossible,” with 18-year-old Alex Harris sparking what proved to be one of the most remarkable comebacks in the competition’s history, Leigh Griffiths shrugging off the disappointment of seeing Bairns goalkeeper Michael McGovern save his penalty to grab a second before Eoin Doyle sent the match into extra-time.
A trademark Griffiths’ strike in extra time clinched a second successive final for the Hibees but, as Fenlon’s players and the 17,000 army of green and white indulged themselves in wild celebrations, 28-year-old Robertson was left wondering whether, given what had happened, he could look forward to being part of it all this Sunday.
His anxiety was only heightened as matches came and went over the course of the following month without him kicking a ball in anger until, finally, he was given a brief run out in the final Edinburgh derby of the season, an opportunity he duly seized with both hands as he set up Ross Caldwell to claim Hibs’ first victory at Tynecastle in four years. A first goal for Hibs followed just three days later as he set Fenlon’s side on the path to a 3-1 victory over Kilmarnock and although he was again on the bench as the Capital outfit completed their SPL campaign with a win over his boyhood heroes Dundee which secured seventh place, Robertson did enjoy another cameo role as he replaced Tom Taiwo for the last seven minutes.
While Fenlon has left his players guessing as to what his starting line-up and bench will be for the showdown with Celtic by rotating his squad over the past few weeks, Robertson admitted he was, at least, comforted by the fact that he does seem to be back in his manager’s thoughts.
He said: “I was starting to fear I wouldn’t be part of it all. I couldn’t blame the gaffer for taking me off against Falkirk – if I’d been the manager I’d have hooked me as well. It was bitterly disappointing and I was a little bit embarrassed by my performance. I had the chance to equalise right after Falkirk had scored their first goal and I can’t explain how I managed to miss it like I did. It would have been great to score, not only would it have been my first goal for Hibs, but it would have brought us level and it could well have been a totally different game.
“The manager has been chopping and changing things over the past few games, there’s been a couple of injuries and others have been rested so the entire squad has been used at one point or another. The young boys like Alex Harris, Ross Caldwell, Danny Handling and Jordon Forster have done superbly well, their performances have belied their years and they are definitely going to be in the manager’s thoughts.
“I’ve found myself involved in the last three games, so now the fingers are crossed I’ll be part of it all on Sunday.”
Robertson readily concedes Celtic will be firm favourites to win the trophy, by virtue of the fact that in winning the SPL title again Neil Lennon’s players finished 28 points ahead of Hibs, but, he believes, the fact the Edinburgh side have strung together a six-match unbeaten run, culminating in those successive wins against Hearts, Kilmarnock and Dundee, might just suggest Fenlon’s side are finding a bit of form just at the right time.
And, he insisted, he and his team-mates can take heart from the way in which Wigan stunned the multi-millionaires of Manchester City by lifting the FA Cup earlier in the month.
He said: “Everyone has been talking about how poor we have been since the turn of the year, but other than the St Johnstone game and Motherwell away, I don’t think we have been too bad. Granted, we haven’t been at our best in all of our matches, but against Hearts and Kilmarnock we turned draws into wins late in the games which is a good habit to have.
“We’d been drawing games we felt we should have won and conceding late goals to lose games we believed we should have drawn, but now we appear to have a bit of momentum going. Sure Hibs are going to be the underdogs on Sunday but I don’t think we have to look any further than the FA Cup final.
“We can take inspiration from that. I don’t think anyone was giving Wigan a chance. When you look at what Manchester City have achieved and the levels they want to be at and the fact Wigan had struggled in the league, you could see why people were thinking that way. I’d imagine they’ll be saying the same about us but we have to look at what Wigan did, give our all and see what happens on the day.
“I definitely think we can take confidence from that. It’s not going to be easy but with everyone giving everything and everyone on their game then we can cause an upset.”
Robertson believes the pressure is all on Celtic, recalling how Dundee United lined up against then First Division Ross County knowing they were firm favourites to win the Scottish Cup final of 2010, but well aware the Staggies had knocked both Hibs and the Hoops out in the previous two rounds.
For an hour another upset looked on the cards as the Dingwall outfit refused to buckle, eventually going behind to a David Goodwillie goal. Even then they were far from out of it until Craig Conway struck with two late goals as Robertson, who replaced Danny Swanson only seconds before Conway claimed the first of his brace, said: “There was that little nagging doubt at the back of the mind because of what they had done against Hibs and Celtic.
“Some people thought they were only there to make up the numbers, but no-one could say they’d had an easy run. It’s been the same for us this season with Hearts, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock before Falkirk. Celtic will be favourites, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. We have to get out there, give it a real go and if we can put on a performance then hopefully our fans will be coming back along the M8 really happy.”