Jason Cummings compared Hibs’ League Cup defeat by Ross County yesterday to their relegation heartache just under two years ago.
The striker looked close to tears in the bowels of Hampden last night as he reflected on his side’s last-minute defeat at the hands of the Dingwall side.
He explained that the feeling of seeing County nick the glory at the death was akin to the dejection which he experienced when he missed the decisive penalty against Hamilton Accies in the play-off final in May 2014.
“I can’t express how bad it was in the dressing-room just now,” said Cummings. “It’s probably the worst I have felt after a game in my life. The Hamilton game is up there as well but recently that’s the worst. I’m gutted.”
Cummings felt Hibs, who had most of the possession, looked the likeliest winners before Alex Schalk forced in County’s late winner. “I don’t think we were the poorer team but it just wasn’t our day,” he said. “We had so much of the game but that’s what happens it’s just football. I thought we had more chances and I felt we were the better team – we just edged it. You can’t take anything away from Ross County. They dug in and it fell to them at the end.
“They got a break and we didn’t. That’s what can happen in cup finals. One team wins and one team loses. I’m devastated.”
Hibs must somehow rouse themselves for a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Inverness on Wednesday night. Cummings admits his team, who are also still fighting for promotion, now face a serious test of character, but the striker is relieved that they still have plenty left to play for in the wake of yesterday’s heartbreak.
“It’s going to take a while to get over it,” he said. “But we have to shake it off because we have big games coming up. We have to shake it off quick. It’s a massive test for us because it’s a Scottish Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.
“We can use this hurt as motivation. I just want to get back out there and make things right again. There are still a lot of things to play for. We’ve got to look at the positives.”
Lewis Stevenson was similarly dejected. The left-back was man of the match when Hibs won this competition with a 5-1 demolition of Kilmarnock nine years ago, but here he was experiencing the other side of the coin. Following two consecutive Scottish Cup final defeats in 2012 and 2013, Stevenson saw yesterday as an ideal opportunity to get back into the winner’s enclosure. Defeat was all the more galling for the long-serving 28-year-old since it came in a match where his team had the better of the play for long periods.
“We’ll never get a better chance to win a cup final,” said Stevenson. “We thought we played all right but they scored two goals and we scored one. We can’t complain. We performed all right so I suppose we did give our all. In the past, we haven’t. I don’t know. We couldn’t have done much more. To win a cup would have been unbelievable. We’ve never had a better chance than we did.”
Having seen their Championship title hopes fizzle out and now their League Cup dream die, Hibs need to get back on track swiftly in order to stop their campaign unravelling. If they lose to Inverness on Wednesday, they will be left with only the task of winning promotion, probably via the tension-loaded play-offs, to focus on.
Stevenson knows his team must find a way to banish yesterday’s pain in order to ensure they are in the correct frame of mind to cope with this week’s trip to the Highlands. “The Scottish Cup’s always important anyway,” said the defender. “When you know the history of the club, you know what the Scottish Cup means. We’ve got a game on Wednesday so we just have to concentrate on that. What’s done is done. We can’t think of what could have been. We just have to focus on the future. We’re still trying to get to the final and win promotion.”
For John McGinn, yesterday’s hammer blow took the sheen off the week in which he experienced the pride of earning his first Scotland call-up. “You go from being high as a kite to getting knocked right to the floor,” said the midfielder. “I’ve still got Scotland to look forward to but this was really, really disappointing. It’s something that I need to deal with and I’ll learn from it.”
Like Stevenson, McGinn had already experienced the joy of winning this competition when he helped St Mirren beat Hearts in the final three years ago. Watching the County players celebrate was excruciating for the 21-year-old.
“To lose a final like that, I’m gobsmacked, gutted,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve lost a final and it’s not nice. It leaves a sour taste and I don’t want it to happen again. We came here for one thing – to lift the trophy, and it’s not happened. Everything else is irrelevant.
“The best team on the day doesn’t always win a cup final. Anything can happen in these games. I’m not saying Ross County didn’t deserve it – they got two goals and we didn’t. But I think they got one or two breaks of the ball that we didn’t get.
“There are a lot of disappointed boys in the dressing-room but we need to pick ourselves up quick because we know we’ve still got a lot to play for. We can’t let it affect us too much. I just want to get this defeat out the way, get a victory on Wednesday and get back here to Hampden [for the Scottish Cup final] at the end of the season.”