HAVING reached the final of the CIS Cup three days earlier, Hibs made it through to the last eight of the Scottish Cup with this relatively straightforward victory over the previous season’s beaten finalists.
Hibs had recorded a win in the SPL the previous weekend too and John Collins’ team selection was further evidence of how the squad was getting better. Steadily, methodically, the Easter Road manager was introducing a number of his younger talents. Sean Lynch made his debut in central midfield, partnering Scott Brown. The latter was thus given a dual responsibility not usually asked of him – shepherding a rookie and running the show in the middle of the park – but he grew into the role. It was noticeable, all the same, that the first time he made a real impact on the match was when he drifted out into his more familiar position on the right.
With just under half an hour played, Steven Whittaker passed out to Brown. After a couple of touches, the midfielder delivered a deep cross to the far post, where Rob Jones rose to head it past Greg Fleming. The goalkeeper got a hand to Jones’s effort, but it was too strong to keep out.
The goal marked the end of a long period in which Gretna’s five-man midfield gave as good as they got, and towards half-time Hibs might easily have had a second goal. Yet, although the home side were in front, they were not quite in the next round, so Collins decided to make sure by bringing on Abdessalam Benjelloun in place of youngster Ross Campbell for the second half.
The Moroccan did not take long to make an impact, even though when he did so the Gretna defence were guilty of negligence. Certainly, when Benjelloun stumbled on the right of the box and lost control, there appeared to be time for more than one defender to step forward and clear the danger. Instead, the striker was allowed to get to his feet and unleash a shot. For a moment, Gretna’s luck seemed to be in, as the ball rebounded off the far post. Unfortunately for Fleming, however, it rebounded off his outstretched leg and into the net. Five minutes later, Benjelloun needed no such assistance. Playing a one-two with Fletcher down the left, he made space for himself then hit a left-foot drive into the far corner of Fleming’s net.
Gretna enjoyed a mini-revival in the closing ten minutes. First Matthew Berkeley got a goal back with a low shot from the edge of the box after a free-kick had been headed out to him, and then James Grady, with his first touch after coming off the bench, stabbed the ball just wide after getting to a slack pass-back from Jones before Andy McNeil. If Grady’s effort had found the net, Hibs would have been in for an anxious final spell, but they took heart from the let-off and upped their game to end the match in the ascendancy.