With less than a week until our big occasion at Hampden, Pat Fenlon will be delighted with our recent run of late, which has seen us finish best of the rest in the table. Remaining undefeated after the split is most pleasing.
We have taken 11 points from our five fixtures, a similar pattern of results that had us flying high earlier in the season.
Form is hugely important going into a game of this magnitude, but the players should be able to feel confident after a string of hardworking displays. I feel there is a belief beginning to grow within the camp and this showed in Saturday’s victory over Dundee, where we had to remain patient before finding the winning goal through David Wotherspoon. The introduction of some of the younger players, coupled with one or two of the more experienced ones beginning to find form, will stand the manager in good stead ahead of his team selection for Sunday. We certainly look in a much healthier position than we did just a couple of months ago.
I’ve been a long believer that the only way to build a successful football club is to consistently win matches. There is no better foundation to build on as a youngster from playing in the first team – the experience is simply invaluable. But being involved in a side who know how to win brings far more benefits to their development. Having so much responsibility placed on your shoulders when introduced into a side low on confidence and struggling for form can disrupt even the most talented of novices.
Three victories in six days is a very good return for a developing side, but Sunday’s opponents are a different proposition altogether. Celtic are blessed with some very capable individuals, players who have great experience at the very top level. This is why I believe the team selection on Sunday must include the right blend between youth and experience if we are to bring the Scottish Cup back home with us to Edinburgh.
The foreseeable future at Easter Road looks brighter. With the emergence of such promising talent, provided they continue to improve over the course of the next few seasons, we have the ability to show progression both on and off the field. You could sense throughout the stadium on Saturday that the supporters are now ready to see if this Hibs side can produce a performance against Celtic that will create history. Going into this match as underdogs can help us in many ways but if we are going to win then we need to be positive. In recent weeks, we have played with a free spirit and haven’t been bogged down by negativity.
Cup finals are there to be enjoyed and I just hope the players relish the occasion. We have the talent to get at our opponents; what may prove decisive on the day is the way we handle the pressure. There is, of course, the added pressure of failing to deliver this piece of silverware for so many years, but really, it’s just another football match. The team that takes to the field must put all this to the back of their minds and just focus on what lies in front of them. What has happened in the past, particularly last year, has been and gone. The players can, however, write some history by playing to the best of their ability on the day.
Celtic haven’t looked defensively secure as they have in previous years and certainly carry a fragility throughout the side when they take to the Hampden turf. This again highlights the importance of having the temperament when it is most needed – the one ingredient that all teams looking to win cup finals require in abundance. However, you also need match winners and in Leigh Griffiths we certainly possess one of our own. The thousands of Hibs supporters heading through to the national stadium will travel in hope that they will be returning along the M8 and on the trains knowing they have won the Scottish Cup for the first time in 111 years. Good luck to the Hibees!