ANYONE trying to gauge just how much winning this competition would mean to Hibs would have only had to hang around for five minutes after the final whistle.
The tension of the match released, their place in the final secured, the Leith chorus had an outpouring of emotion. Just as they had when they won the League Cup in 2007, they serenaded the players as they left the pitch, Pat Fenlon and his management team hanging around long enough to applaud what has been a long-suffering support as the singing reached its conclusion.
A cup final appearance won’t make up for the years of torment but winning the cup would.
Forget what Queen Victoria was up to 110 years ago and cast aside thoughts of the theories Albert Einstein had yet to mull over. Every-thing is relative. And the last time Hibs won this trophy yesterday’s opponents had not even been formed. That came a year later and in the decades since they have won the cup seven times. Hibs have only experienced heartache.
Yesterday the capital club moved one step closer. It is astonishing, given the class acts who have donned the green and white over the past century, that this could be the group of players which ends the 110-year drought.
A squad which has been unable to put much distance between themselves and the relegation battle all season, a group which has done little to halt the fall in home attendances and inspire the punters. Until yesterday. In the cold light of day the same deficiencies will remain but yesterday, they made sure they didn’t matter.
Their manager, Fenlon, enthused: “I’m chuffed for everybody at the club to be honest. I’ve not been here a long time but I know what it means to everybody. In the first half we played OK and started off really well, getting the goal, although we didn’t pass the ball as well as we can but in a semi-final sometimes that happens.
“In the second half Aberdeen put us under a bit of pressure without causing us loads of problems and it could have gone either way. But we said it would probably come down to a goal either way and that’s the way it worked out.” In James McPake they had a captain who marshalled his troops and at the other end of the pitch Leigh Griffiths and Garry O’Connor got the goals that catapulted them into the final.
The first came in the third minute and was almost medicinal, such was the calming effect it had on Hibs nerves. O’Connor fed the ball to Griffiths and while his shot was blocked, it rebounded to Pa Kujabi, and he whipped it back into O’Connor, who was given too much space and he sidefooted it into the net at the near post.
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown described the defending as “horrendous” and claimed it had a demoralising effect on his side, who had to battle back psychologically from that early blow. It took them a while, as Hibs proved they had their game heads on, pressing every ball and working hard.
The balls were fired into the box but both McPake and Paul Hanlon were virtually flawless as they dealt with it all. They weren’t the only ones showing a steely resolve, with the full-backs flinging themselves in front of every loose ball as well as trying to push up the park and assume the territorial advantage. As it was both sides remained fully engaged as the game moved from one end to the other.
Aberdeen did come back at Hibs, although it did not amount to anything until the second half. Brown had sent on Fraser Fyvie after the break and he made a huge difference, bolstering his side’s attacking prowess and he skelped one shot over the bar from range in the 54th minute. Rory Fallon was far more clinical, five minutes later, scoring a smasher of a goal to give the Pittodrie side the momentum.
Fallon controlled the ball on his chest 25 yards from goal before looping a volley over Graham Stack’s head and into the net. “That finish was brilliant,” said Brown. “I was delighted and surprised when it went in and that should have been enough for at least extra time. At 1-1 we had the opportunity to get to a cup final but we failed to do it.”
They just didn’t create enough of a telling finish, while Hibs fought hard. They weathered the Aberdeen attacks and while the clearances weren’t always definitive, they were ultimately enough to prevent another breakthrough. Even when Stack went off injured, Mark Brown was too quick to react when Fallon burst in one on one in the 76th minute, getting down to gather at his feet.
Then, with five minutes left, Griffiths put the season’s woes behind him. The delightful ball through came from O’Connor, and it found his strike partner homing in on goal and with the kind of composure few in the stands would have mustered, his left foot shot was slotted beyond Jason Brown. Forget spitting the dummy, he pulled one from his sock as he accepted the congratulations.
It delighted his manager, who knows his frailties but has never doubted the positives he can bring to a performance. Yesterday the balance fell in favour of the positives.
“I’m happy for them too,” Fenlon said summing up the contribution of his frontmen. “They are two Hibs boys and they scored the goals which were important.”
Important? For the time being they meant everything.
MAN OF THE MATCH James McPake (Hibs)
Griffiths and O’Connor got the goals but it was the captain who provided the solid platform.
TALKING POINT The Hibs players are one game from becoming Easter Road demi gods.
Referee: W Collum. Attendance: 28,278