The bookies have made Hibs over-riding favourites to brush Arbroath aside tomorrow, quoting the League Two leaders as 9/1 outsiders to cause a Scottish Cup shock at Easter Road, but Dylan McGeouch knows all too well how cup minnows can make a mockery of the odds.
He was part of the Celtic team which was held to a 1-1 draw at home by the Red Lichties before scraping through thanks to the only goal of the game in a replay at Gayfield Park. And while he hopes for a much easier passage this time round, the midfielder insisted he and his team-mates have to be prepared to battle all the way to clinch a place in the last eight.
Neil Lennon’s players were within touching distance of victory on their home turf a couple of years ago, albeit thanks to an early own goal from Arbroath’s Alex Keddie, only for Steven Doris to leave them stunned as he levelled the tie three minutes from the final whistle.
Fraser Forster, Kelvin Wilson, Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, Georgios Samaras and Beram Kayal were all recalled for the trip to Angus having been initially rested, but even so, having gone ahead through Adam Matthews’ 18th minute strike, the Glasgow giants had to settle for the narrowest margin of victory, making the most of that escape as they then went all the way to the final where, ironically, they defeated Hibs.
Today McGeouch recalled: “I think when we went ahead at Celtic Park everyone expected us to go on and get a few more. But Arbroath were well organised, they played well and earned their replay. We probably thought 1-0 was always going to be enough but when that’s the case the opposition are always likely to get a chance which Arbroath did and they took it.
“I can’t exactly recall the manager’s reaction afterwards but I’d imagine he wasn’t too happy both with the result and the fact it meant another game to be played.
“I’d never been to Gayfield before but I remember it was a cold night with a biting wind coming in off the North Sea. Again we’d probably have expected to score a few more after Adam gave us the lead, but Arbroath defended well. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you win by one goal or six, getting into the next round is all that counts.”
Recent results in the FA Cup have served as a timely reminder of the shocks which can occur, Cambridge United holding Manchester United to a goal-less draw only to have that achievement topped as Bradford City came from two goals down to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. And being on the wrong end of such a shock is something McGeouch is not contemplating. “Some of the results in England were unbelievable. I am sure Arbroath would love to do that to us. They are top of their league which means they’ll be coming here full of confidence.”
Easter Road will provide a more salubrious backdrop to tomorrow’s match than Arbroath’s last Scottish Cup tie, a 5-0 hammering of Junior outfit Bo’ness United at Newton Park, but one which McGeouch believes could either help or hinder Allan Moore’s team. He said: “It’s a great stadium to play in, a big pitch where we’re always looking to get the ball down and pass it. With the crowd behind us it can be difficult for any visiting team and, no disrespect to some of the grounds Arbroath will play at, Easter Road will be completely different for them. Sometimes that can inspire players, sometimes it can intimidate a bit.”
Whichever it proves to be, McGeouch agreed the one thing Stubbs’ players don’t want to do is give Arbroath any encouragement in the shape of the opening goal, to which end he admitted they’ll have to be wary of striker Simon Murray who has scored 18 goals so far this season – including a hat-trick against Bo’ness – a record which persuaded Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara to fork out £50,000 for his signature only to loan him back to his current club for the remainder of the season.
McGeouch, who is on loan from Celtic added: “He’s obviously got a bit of quality, United have had a great record with players like Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven, Andrew Robertson and so on and they must feel this guy has a good chance. We’ll have to keep an eye on him but we don’t want to be giving Arbroath any encouragement. It would be nice to get an early goal ourselves and go on from there.”
That is something Hibs didn’t do last week against Raith Rovers, scorning a host of chances to build on Martin Boyle’s opener only to concede a last-gasp equaliser. Tomorrow, though, McGeouch believes if Stubbs’ players create as many clear-cut opportunities there will, surely, be only one outcome. He said: “It was very disappointing we weren’t able to see the game out. We had enough chances to bury it but that’s football, we’ll learn from it and hopefully if we make as many chances tomorrow we’ll take them.”
Hibs will be without the suspended Dominique Malonga, the striker having returned from international duty with Congo at the Africa Cup of Nations, and January on-loan signings Boyle and Keith Watson, both cup-tied. But to compensate, Fraser Fyvie, who arrived on transfer deadline day, will be part of Stubbs’s plans as will Scott Allan, widely regarded as the best player in the Championship, after Hibs rebuffed three bids by Dundee United to take him back to Tannadice.
McGeouch said: “I know Fraser from playing with him for Scotland for a number of years. Him coming and Scott staying shows we are going in the right direction, trying to build something here. We’ve got a lot of depth to the squad, a lot of people fighting for positions, pushing each other, which is always good for any team.”