IVAN SPROULE admitted today that the Scottish Cup final derby will be a massive occasion for the Hibs players – but even more so for the club’s supporters.
Hibs and Hearts were paired together in the showpiece final as a result of their respective victories over Aberdeen and Celtic at the weekend and will battle it out for the season’s last piece of silverware on May 19.
It’s the first time that the two sides have met in the Scottish Cup final since 1896 and the clash will be one of the biggest Edinburgh derbies in history. Sproule reckons that the Hampden clash in a month’s time will leave Edinburgh deserted as thousands head west, but is hoping that it’s the Hibs fans who’ll have a happy homecoming at the end of the 90 minutes.
He said: “We honestly didn’t mind who we got in the final because the biggest thing for us was that we just made it through.
“But obviously it is now going to be a massive occasion for the whole of Edinburgh now that it is a Hibs v Hearts final, you can’t deny that.
“It’s going to be so special for the city, for the fans, for the players and management teams involved, for absolutely everyone with a connection to either team.
“I don’t think there will be anyone left in Edinburgh that day and I think that it will probably be something that the supporters talk about for the next month and enjoy the build-up to it.
“There will be a lot of hype surrounding the game and for the fans there will be elation on one side and disappointment on the other.
“I’m sure that Hearts will be just as determined as us to get their hands on the trophy so it is going to make for one cracking cup final.”
Goals from Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths were enough to send the Easter Road side through to the final with a 2-1 victory over Aberdeen, a spectacular strike in between from the Dons’ Rory Fallon leaving the game on a knife edge.
While the majority of the Hibs squad from that match would have been glued to their television screens for the other semi-final between Celtic and Hearts yesterday, Sproule was at a kids’ birthday party and missed the game.
In fact, he thought that the 90 minutes had ended in a draw, adding: “I was at a party for one of my son’s friends and my wife didn’t give me the option of staying in to watch the game!
“I knew that Hearts had gone one up and then someone told me that Celtic had brought it back to one each.
“When I heard that I have to admit that I thought Celtic would go on and win the game but then one of my friends called me and asked if I knew the final score – of course I said that I knew it had ended 1-1 and he just laughed and told me that Hearts had actually won it late in the game.
“So it was a bit of a surprise to me but it has set up a massive game for everyone concerned come May 19.”
It may have been over a century since the Easter Road side last won the trophy but it took them just three minutes to breach Aberdeen’s rearguard at Hampden, Pa Kujabi firing the ball in from the left and O’Connor turning it past keeper Jason Brown at the near post.
Following O’Connor’s early opener, the Dons tried to hit back straight away but, in truth, Aberdeen’s attacks were to be few and far between in the opening 45 minutes.
Hibs manager Pat Fenlon had said before the game that he expected a physical challenge from the Dons and that was certainly the case – Matt Doherty twice taking sore ones in the face – but the central pairing of James McPake and Paul Hanlon dealt comfortably with everything that Craig Brown’s side threw at them in the first-half.
Hibs could have doubled their advantage when McPake spotted Griffiths up ahead and laid the ball into his path, only for the hitman to turn away from Mark Reynolds and fire his effort wide of Brown’s left-hand post from distance.
Jorge Claros had been brought into the starting line-up to replace the suspended Lewis Stevenson but it was Isaiah Osbourne who looked most comfortable in the middle of the park.
Craig Brown knew that he had to make changes and brought on Fraser Fyvie for Ryan Jack at the break and the substitute certainly made the difference for the Dons, who looked much more dangerous in the second half.
The ball was spending more time in the air than on the deck and you got the feeling that Hibs would have to bring it down to create anything – and that was certainly the case with 54 minutes on the clock when Osbourne took control in the middle of the park.
He found Griffiths and then Sproule, O’Connor and Kujabi were all involved, the Gambian eventually taking aim from distance and his thundering shot wasn’t far away from Brown’s goal at all.
It was going to take something special to bring the Pittodrie side level and they got it with just under an hour gone, Fallon chesting the ball down and hitting it as sweet as you like with his left foot to send it soaring high up in the air before coming down behind Graeme Stack and into the net.
The Hibs keeper could have done nothing about the strike, it was one of those goals that Fallon will probably never be able to reproduce.
It’s amazing what a difference a goal can make and Aberdeen made the most of it, Fyvie trying to capitalise on some pressure but turning his curling shot wide of Stack’s left stick.
Hibs then lost Stack with 20 minutes remaining when he strained his thigh kicking the ball up the park and he limped off to be replaced by Mark Brown. With the scores so finely balanced, the last thing you want to happen is that you lose the mainstay of your defence, but Brown was to prove an able replacement
And Hibs hit the winner with just five minutes of normal time remaining when a towering header from McPake in the middle of the park released O’Connor. His flick on was weighted perfectly on the diagonal for Griffiths, who raced into the box and slotted calmly beyond Aberdeen’s Brown with his right foot.
The atmosphere had been lacking for at least half an hour – the Hibs fans just too nervous to make any noise – but suddenly the shout “Hibees, Hibees” went up around Hampden once more and you sensed that the job might just be about done.
The nerves are bound to be even worse in the final but Hibs fans will take another 90 minutes of torture if it means that they finally see their team end their Scottish Cup hoodoo.
And Sproule, left, added: “I’m just elated for the fans and everyone involved. We’ve had such a difficult season but we end it with a cup final and hopefully a high.
“Obviously the main thing for us right now is to secure our place in the league for next season, that is our priority, and our focus now is straight onto the Kilmarnock game this weekend.
“But hopefully we can enjoy this victory and maybe it will keep a few people quiet and prove that they shouldn’t have knocked this team just as quickly as they have done.”