Hibs raising questions rather than silverware as Scott Allan admits critics right to have a go
A club deserving of plaudits for the consistency in which they serve up semi-final appearances, the flipside to that is the frequency with which the Leith outfit fail to translate those runs deep into the knockout competitions into silverware.
Against St Johnstone, they again came up short. Not because they weren’t good enough, because for the first 35 minutes they were by far the superior side and could and should have been at least a couple of goals to the good. Collectively, they just weren’t clinical enough or, perhaps, brave enough to cash in when they were on top. They were also nowhere near dominant enough at set pieces. Or resilient or determined enough to battle back when Callum Davidson’s men, having rolled with the punches, caught them with the classic rope-a-dope, landing two massive blows on either side of half time.
By the time St Johnstone’s third goal came along in the 63rd minute, courtesy of Craig Conway showing the hunger to get the decisive touch at the back post, in the minds of too many Hibs players the game had already been decided.
It was a pitiful end to a game that had started so promisingly and that, understandably, left manager Jack Ross fuming.
“The only ones to blame are ourselves, not doing the basics, defending set-pieces and we got punished for it,” said Allan, who was thrown on in the 66th minute for his first appearance in almost five months. It proved a mixed blessing for a player who was ecstatic to be back in the fold after a lengthy battle with a personal medical condition, but was floored by the fact he could do little to salvage the situation.
“There was a lot of frustration, it’s still fresh, we’re just off the park. The coaching staff put in a lot of time and effort, especially into defending set-pieces. But, you have got to be a player who wants to stand up and be counted and take the game by the scruff of the neck, and we didn’t do that.”
In the opening spell of the game Hibs set a decent tempo and were fluid and worked well together to pile the pressure on their rivals.
Passing was crisp and telling but while that carved out scoring opportunities for a few players, Jackson Irvine - one of the few who maintained his standards throughout the game - saw one header crash off the post and another glanced just wide of the upright, while Jamie Murphy must still be wincing at the double opportunity he failed to convert. The first was blocked but the second, which he chose to dink over the grounded Zander Clark, was scooped too high and hit the bar.
Had any of those attempts gone in, the outcome of the game may have been different, as it would have given Hibs, who had been tagged tournament favourites in the absence of the Premiership’s other high flyers, greater self belief and allowed them to sit in and pose the Perth side problems on the counter attack.
But it was St Johnstone, with one of their first real attempts on target, who broke the deadlock. From Davd Wotherspoon’s 35th minute corner, Jason Kerr stole a march on his marker and rose to head past Ofir Marciano. Four minutes after the interval, Shaun Rooney did likewise, this time from a Craig Conway free-kick.
After the recent Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Hearts, Hibs spoke of the desire to channel that hurt into a more determined and successful Betfred Cup showing. But, when push came to shove and they went two goals behind, everything good drained from Hibs’ game, including their composure, their team spirit and their fight. With St Johnstone well-organised and focused on defending their lead, a visibly-deflated Hibs ran out of ways to try to break them down. That just wasn’t good enough, according to Allan, who watched the loss to Hearts from the sidelines and was a frustrated observer for much of this one, too.
“Losing any semi final is heartbreaking, but this was a chance. We knew who was left in the competition, there was no Old Firm there.
“Listen, fans, pundits, media all have a right to question us because it’s twice that it’s happened now. And twice in big games where we were probably favourites going into them.
“You have to be able to handle that and put your personality on the game and want to be the player everyone is talking about, who won the game for their club. We haven’t done that on two occasions now, two big, big games. It’s really frustrating.
“We still have a lot to play for, we have a chance to get to Europe, [this season’s] Scottish Cup when it comes back around. But we have to nip this in the bud.
“We have let the coaching staff down, the fans down and now we need to pick ourselves up.
“We’ve not done the basics. We have not defended set-pieces and we have got sloppy after we conceded the third goal as well. We didn’t threaten enough, we just didn’t do the right things.
“You can forgive people when they try to do the right things but we made some poor mistakes and we have been punished.
“That was a big game in our season, something that really could have kicked us on in terms of going to be the third force.”
Instead, it was a mentally bruising encounter that will see questions being raised rather than silverware.