David WOTHERSPOON set Hibs on the road to Hampden but now he doesn’t know if he’s going to be there at the journey’s end.
Having been a first-team regular for much of the season, the midfield youngster has found himself playing a bit-part role in recent weeks and thus a question mark hangs over whether he’ll be one of the lucky 16 named by boss Pat Fenlon for the historic showdown with Hearts. Wotherspoon started a match for the first time in two months as the Easter Road outfit completed their SPL programme with a trip to Inverness only for the much-changed side fielded by Fenlon to be beaten 2-0 with a performance which fell well below the Irishman’s expectations.
The Scotland Under-21 star was one of a string of players handed a last chance by Fenlon to catch his eye before the Hibs squad departed for their four-day training camp on the outskirts of Dublin to put the finishing touches to their preparations for Saturday’s Scottish Cup final.
But, he revealed, like a number of others it is now a question of waiting and hoping, fingers crossed that they’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the derby to end all derbies and, from a Hibs perspective, to hopefully bring the Cup back to the east end of the Capital for the first time in 110 years.
That such a chance exists at all has caught almost everyone by surprise given Hibs’ season-long battle to beat the drop, their survival in the top flight only secured in the penultimate SPL match with that 4-0 demolition of relegation rivals Dunfermline.
And no-one would have predicted such an outcome when Greg Stewart fired Second Division leaders Cowdenbeath ahead after only 15 seconds at Central Park as Hibs entered the competition in the fourth round. Indeed, such was Hibs’ plight at that time that had Colin Cameron’s side won it would have been considered something of a shock but not overly so.
However, Hibs scraped through, Leigh Griffiths and Eoin Doyle firing them ahead before half-time with Wotherspoon adding a third shortly after the interval to seemingly put the Capital side on easy street. But a second goal for the Blue Brazil from Jon Robertson ensured a nervy end before Wotherspoon’s header – in his 100th game in a green and white shirt – proved to be the winner.
Since then Kilmarnock, Ayr United and Aberdeen have all been dealt with, leaving ‘only’ the Jambos between Hibs and their holy grail, the only question remaining being the identity of Fenlon’s starting XI and the five more who will occupy the bench.
So, with some 22 players chasing those 16 precious jerseys, the final SPL game presented more than a few with one last opportunity to sway Fenlon’s mind. But, as Wotherspoon admitted, given the display in the Highlands, there will be a lot of fingers crossed until the boss unveils his plans.
The 22-year-old candidly confessed that he feels he is among that number, saying: “I was looking forward to the Inverness game. I’ve not been playing recently so it was an opportunity for me to make myself available for the Cup final. But I don’t think I did as much as I could to get myself into the team. I tried my hardest, worked as hard as I could so, fingers crossed, I can do something over the course of this week to get it.”
Although, with SPL safety secured, the final League game was always going to be something of an anti-climax with all eyes turning towards Hampden, the windswept Caledonian Stadium – despite two earlier wins there this season – had never represented the easiest of venues for Hibs.
Eight changes to the side which had beaten the Pars could also have been said to have contributed to a below-par performance but, insisted Wotherspoon, there could be no excuses.
He said: “We had to push Hampden to the back of our minds and focus on the game because we wanted to get something and to get into the manager’s thoughts. It wasn’t a case of there being nothing to play for. Of the boys that played some hadn’t played regularly so it was their opportunity. There was a lot to play with the game that lies ahead. We all tried our hardest but it didn’t come off.”
Like every other player who will be living on his nerves over the next few days, not making the matchday squad doesn’t bear thinking about for Wotherspoon, the Cup final offering an unbelievable chance to turn a bitterly disappointing season into one of the most memorable in the 137-year history of Hibs.
He said: “It’s a massive game, the first time it has happened in so many years, a great occasion. I’ve happy memories of Hampden and winning the SFA Youth Cup there with our Under-19 side but this is a completely different game, that goes without saying.
“It’s a massive stage, one we have to enjoy and, hopefully, come out winners.”
Wotherspoon agreed, though, that he could hardly have thought on that day back in January just how significant his goal against Cowdenbeath would prove to be.
He said: “I think in any Cup game every goal is a key moment. It was a hard time for the club at that particular stage and when they went ahead after only 15 seconds most people probably thought that was it as far as Hibs were concerned.
“When I scored it looked as if we’d seen Cowdenbeath off but we struggled a bit to get out of our own half because the of the wind and it was a bit nail-biting when they got a second goal. We dug deep, though, and ground out the win.
“The whole season has been difficult for the boys and the club itself but we have achieved something in getting to the final and avoiding relegation.
“I’ve played a part in getting us there with the goal against Cowdenbeath and hopefully I can play a further part on Saturday.”