The dam has been burst and now Sam Stanton expects the goals to keep flooding in following Hibs’ dramatic late fightback against Dumbarton to clinch their place in the third round of the League Cup.
Three goals in the space of 12 tension-filled minutes on Tuesday was more than even the most diehard of Easter Road fans would have expected given that, yet again, Alan Stubbs’ side had been guilty of failing to capitalise on their superior possession.
It had cost them dearly just days beforehand as Rory Loy claimed all three points for Falkirk with a cheeky backheel very much against the run of play. And it looked as if that profligacy in front of goal would see them crash out of the League Cup just weeks after exiting the Petrofac Training Cup when, again, chances to bury Rangers at Ibrox had gone begging.
Today, Stanton admitted that even he thought the game was up as the minutes on the clock on Easter Road’s South Stand ticking away with Hibs trailing to goals from Mitch Megginson and Mark Gilhaney, those strike down more to sloppy defending rather than any brilliance from Ian Murray’s players.
Scrappy affairs they might have been – at least from a defensive point of view – but, as is often pointed out, it doesn’t matter how they are scored, they all count exactly the same.
Even so, you’d be hard pushed to match the three Hibs did score to leave their part-time rivals on their knees and shaking their heads in disbelief, Farid El Alagui nodding a David Gray cross beyond Danny Rodgers and then leaving the goalkeeper grasping thin air as the striker powered another header beyond him.
Terrific efforts but, just as 30 minutes of extra-time seemed certain, something Stubbs and everyone inside Easter Road bar the 150 or so Dumbarton fans would have settled for, Stanton struck.
There appeared to be little danger as the 20-year-old midfielder exchanged passes with Scott Robertson out on the right touchline but, sensing something special was on, he cut inside before unleashing an unstoppable, left foot shot which screamed across Rodgers and into the far corner of the net.
Cue scenes of ecstasy both on and off the pitch although that emotion was probably more than matched by a feeling of relief, that a third-successive defeat and a fourth in their opening five matches had been avoided. Stubbs, too, was spared once again trying to explain how his side had contrived to spurn an opportunity to emerge victorious.
“Robbo touched the ball to me and I came inside to the edge of the box and thought I could curl it into the far corner,” said Stanton of his magical moment, “And I managed to do it. It’s always great to score a goal at Easter Road no matter how old you are or who you are playing against. But to score a winning goal like that was something special.”
So special in fact, Stanton reckons it’s the best he’s scored so far although, to be fair, his tally to date amounts to only four, his first since the beginning of May. He said: “I think it tops the others simply because of the circumstances.
“To be honest, it looked as if we were down and out. With twelve minutes to go, the game looked finished. It looked as if it was going to be another of those games where we’d enjoyed a lot of the ball, made plenty chances but were once again going to come away with nothing. In that situation, it was brilliant to pull it back, I think it showed great spirit from the boys. I think that, just as in the Falkirk game, there was a feeling of disbelief that we’d found ourselves behind although we did lose two sloppy goals from set-plays. They were scrappy and we were disappointed but we kept trying to play our football and it eventually paid off. We’d created chances from early on in the game but it was fantastic to win with three quality goals.
“I think we’d have settled for a couple of scruffy strikes but to score three quality goals in such a short space of time will give us great confidence. We’d all been saying it was only a matter of time until we did so but I have to admit, up until Farid got his first one, it looked like being another of those games like Saturday’s against Falkirk.”
It was the first time since the 3-3 draw at home to Motherwell in early March – a run of some 17 matches – that Hibs had scored three in a game, and Stanton reckons that will bring more self-belief to players whose confidence is still being rebuilt under the guidance of Stubbs following the traumas of last season.He said “Possibly it just needed something like that to show us that there are goals in the team and that we are capable of scoring a few in a very short space of time. Last season, became difficult for us because we didn’t score as many as we should have.
“But we all think there are plenty of goals to come, not just from the strikers but from all areas of the pitch. We’ve proved we can do it and I think it will also have been great for the fans who were becoming a bit anxious. To be fair to them, though, they stuck behind us and they’d have enjoyed the win as much as we did.”
And on a personal level, Stanton is hoping his last-gasp winner will get his season up-and-running, the youngster admitting he’s got off to something of a slow start, refusing to use the fact he’s been used in a wider area as an excuse.
He said: “I’ve probably not been involved in games as much as I should have been, playing in a different position shouldn’t make too much of a difference but hopefully I’ve shown everyone, myself included, that I can make a difference in a game.”