HATS off to Pat Fenlon and his Hibs team for the manner they handled Saturday’s potentially hazardous trip to Ayr.
We’re now only 180 minutes and two victories away from ending our Scottish Cup jinx after what was a really good team performance at Somerset Park, and there’s a growing feeling of optimism that the team are finally heading in the right direction.
There appears to be a lot more resilience about Hibs at the moment and this is being illustrated through our performances of late which have significantly improved, particularly on a defensive front. It wasn’t that long ago when despite managing to take an early lead, the fragility would eventually take its toll on the players at some point over the course of the match. Hopefully we have now conquered those demons and can play with a little bit more confidence in our play so our opponents will have to work harder to get back into the game.
The game at Somerset Park on Saturday was a big test for this new-look Hibs side as Ayr have been one of the form teams in the First Division after recently beating both Falkirk and Livingston. Hearts have already suffered at Ayr’s expense in the League Cup earlier in the season, while we Hibbies know all about their capabilities after losing down there last season, so this was undoubtedly a potential banana skin encounter. Gaining a two-goal advantage in the opening 20 minutes certainly put paid to any chance of a cup upset and most would agree Hibs never looked in danger after Leigh Griffiths dispatched the second from the penalty spot.
Any victory at the moment is welcomed with open arms as they have been few and far between this season. With so many critical fixtures on the horizon for the club, there couldn’t be a better time to start winning matches. The build-up to the semi-final against Aberdeen will gather momentum nearer the time but for now, we must regain our focus with a return to league duty next Sunday and a massive game against Hearts at Tynecastle. Derbies are always difficult to predict but I believe the players will travel across the city in a more optimistic mood than for previous games against the Jambos. If we can start this match in a similar fashion to the victory over Ayr, we may begin to unnerve sections of the home support which can often get to the players out on the pitch. For all we have endured this season, it would be great to finally land our first derby win since May 2009. If we can achieve a few victories in the SPL to ensure our survival over the next few weeks, I believe the whole season could be turned on its head with Scottish Cup fever capturing the imagination of all Hibs supporters. It is nice to have a trip to Hampden to look forward to next month. Furthermore, who’s to say we won’t be making a return trip to the national stadium come the end of May? Here’s hoping our form continues to improve between now and then.
Finally, after watching the debate surrounding the current state of Scottish football on television last week, I find it quite alarming some manager’s views on the ingredients they feel are needed to improve aspects of our game. I do hold some sympathy for the pressure and strain they are under in order to remain in employment, which only comes through success on the park. But to make the point that our youngsters at aged seven or eight, for example, need to be more tactically aware of the game is a completely different story altogether. There are certainly talented players of that age around, but the problem stems from too much involvement from the sidelines which restricts their ability to go out and express themselves. I hold a fear that until we let the individuals on the park to think on their own, we may never be blessed with true international stars in the mould of Jimmy Johnstone, Davie Cooper and Paul Gascoigne for that matter.