THERE was no disguising John McGlynn’s dejection. As a Hearts man, he knows the consequences of surrendering the Scottish Cup against Hibs just six months after beating them 5-1 in the final. He knows pressure surrounding him will intensify from a support unhappy with results. The sadness was etched all over his face leaving Easter Road last night.
Perhaps the nature of the winning goal made Hearts’ cup exit all the more difficult to digest. In the 82nd minute of an unremarkable match, David Wotherspoon’s shot was heading wide until it careered off Marius Zaliukas and spun over the visiting goalkeeper, Jamie MacDonald. With that went Hearts’ 12-game unbeaten run in Edinburgh derbies as Hibs began partying.
A 1-0 win in the Scottish Cup fourth round couldn’t possibly atone for Hibs’ resounding defeat in last season’s final, but it provided a small hint of redemption. Pat Fenlon suffered more than most at Hampden Park in May and was yesterday basking in glory on the Easter Road pitch after knocking Hearts out of the competition.
McGlynn, meanwhile, was down the tunnel quick smart. He is certainly frustrated by statistics like those which show Hearts have scored just two goals in their last six games. The lack of an attacking edge is costing his team, and causing fans to ask questions of their manager.
Asked if yesterday’s result put him under pressure, McGlynn replied: “I don’t know. It’s obviously difficult circumstances but I really don’t know. We are all gutted. We are the holders of the cup and you don’t want to lose it. I still believe we put an awful lot of effort into the game. As we’ve often said this season, we come away with nothing.
“The lack of goals is the thing. It’s not rocket science. We need to strengthen in that department, which has been the case since the first day I came in. With the financial situation, we couldn’t really bring anyone in. It’s probably going to haunt us all season, I would suggest. Strengthening the attack isn’t likely in the current situation.”
Ironically, for much of yesterday’s fourth-round tie, Hearts looked the most likely team to score. They weren’t exactly lashing shots at Ben Williams from every angle, but their attacks looked more threatening than Hibs’. This was particularly true in the first half, when the Lithuanian winger Arvydas Novikovas caused untold trouble for the hosts. Injury forced him off at the interval as Andy Driver took his place.
“Novikovas had been doing well and was causing Hibs problems,” said McGlynn. “We felt his pace and ability might cause Alan Maybury (Hibs’ right-back) problems and it turned out that way. He put some good balls into the box early on and it makes a massive difference to get the first goal in any game. If we had got that early, with the defence we have and Hibs having to come out, it might have made a big difference.
“It was a like-for-like switch with Andy Driver coming on. He can go at players as well and get balls into the box, but we didn’t quite get the same quality or get anyone on the end of crosses. Our delivery of set-pieces could have been better. We should have carried a bigger threat from set-pieces.
“We started the game really well and had a couple of good opportunities. Callum Paterson had a header and then the keeper made a good save when the ball nicked off someone and it looked like it was going in the top corner. We were in control of the situation. The longer the game went, it looked like it had 0-0 written all over it.
“There weren’t many goalscoring opportunities for us but we certainly never looked like losing a goal. The one break of the game went to Hibs. It was a massive deflection and Jamie MacDonald couldn’t do anything about it at all. We threw everything forward to try and get the equaliser but it didn’t really fall for us in the box.”
Hibs clearly sensed the chance for a winner in the closing stages and Wotherspoon was keen to claim the strike as his own. Nonetheless, it will go down as another own goal by Zaliukas, although one he could do little to prevent on this occasion. Given Hearts’ dominance over their Edinburgh rivals in recent seasons – Hibs’ last derby win before yesterday was in May 2009 – it was ironic that such an untidy goal should be so decisive.
Yet the visitors could have few complaints. They didn’t capitalise whilst controlling possession by getting more players forward in support of Paterson, who played as a lone striker and was crying out for a partner.
Hibs, by contrast, played all 90 minutes with two strikers even after top scorer Leigh Griffiths was stretchered off. Ultimately, they got their reward.
Hearts continue their fight for survival off the field with McGlynn now trying to lift morale on it. “The priority is that the club survives. We shouldn’t underestimate that,” he explained. “We need to make sure the financial battle we have is one we win.
“There were a number of young players on the pitch against Hibs, albeit Jason Holt and Dylan McGowan didn’t play through injury. We have other young players coming through and that is the way we’re going – developing younger players and giving them an opportunity to play. We want to do better in the league, get ourselves up the table and we have a League Cup semi-final at the end of January. It’s disappointing to lose the Scottish Cup but we still have a lot to play for.”