Hearts players excel at Hampden

SOME things are fated in the stars. Some eventualities cannot be prevented. At Hampden Park in the most critical Edinburgh derby in history, Hearts destroyed Hibs without even reaching full capacity. A section of the Tynecastle support arrived in Glasgow harbouring reservations about the outcome of the Scottish Cup final. They needn’t have worried.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st May 2012, 1:45 pm

“The last two weekends have shown me what’s wrong with the club. There’s a softness. We just accept things.” The words of Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager, after his team’s 5-1 mauling by their greatest rivals. He was correct. Hibs’ fighting spirit was pathetic. Upon falling 2-0 behind on 27 minutes, a handful of their fans vacated the national stadium assuming their team wouldn’t recover. On the field, some Hibs players appeared to do likewise.

Yes, there was a response from James McPake, one of few in green who did not disgrace himself. But most of his colleagues were overwhelmed by Hearts’ voracity and paid the ultimate price – annihilation in the biggest game in their club’s history. Hibs’ Scottish Cup curse now stretches to 111 years, a pleasing side note for any Hearts follower.

Goals from Darren Barr and Rudi Skacel had Hearts cruising inside the opening half hour. McPake scored before the interval, prompting thoughts of a second-half onslaught, but five minutes after the interval Hearts sat 4-1 ahead following Danny Grainger’s penalty and Ryan McGowan’s header. The Scottish Cup was theirs and they began tormenting Hibs by playing keep-ball, reducing a national cup final to little more than a training session. Chants of “olé” from supporters were interrupted only by Skacel’s second goal and Hearts’ fifth with 15 minutes remaining.

Sign up to our Hearts newsletter

Fenlon had cobbled together a team containing many loanees who will now return to their parent clubs. Hearts, too, will lose several of their cup final starting XI. Ian Black, Rudi Skacel, Suso and Stephen Elliott are all on the way out. The difference is, the Tynecastle quartet will depart as legends after romping the first all- Edinburgh cup final since 1896.

As they tossed Paulo Sergio into the air whilst parading the Cup in front of their fans, many might have pondered what the future holds for the Portuguese manager. He is also out of contract but Saturday’s events gave him the perfect bargaining tool. His case for a new deal is now undeniable. Even Vladimir Romanov could not dispense with the man who guided Hearts to such an emphatic victory in their biggest ever game. Could he?

“It’s not a moment to speak about my future,” said Sergio. “I already said that, for me, it’s not winning the Cup or not winning it which will make me stay or not. Maybe for other people that can make the difference but not for me. It’s a lot of things. I don’t know if it’s the last game or not. We will see.

“It was a great result, a great match for us and I’m very proud. It’s amazing to see the joy of our supporters. To win the trophy with my family in the stand is a great moment. It’s probably my biggest achievement as manager. I was champion in my first season coaching, I got my team promoted, but this is different. I lost the final of the Portuguese Cup against FC Porto so I have had great moments as a manager. But this is different because I’m working outside of my country. That can make things harder, even with the language because I can’t express myself the same way I could in Portugal. So it gives a different flavour, a fantastic flavour.”

Romanov watched the match dressed in a Hearts kilt and, along with club director Sergejus Fedotovas, is now expected to hold detailed discussions with Sergio about the future. “I never spoke to Romanov after the whistle,” said Sergio. “I was afraid to go in the dressing-room. It was crazy in there.”

The game started tentatively and Hearts, with Craig Beattie fit enough only for the substitutes’ bench, fashioned a half-chance on 12 minutes when Andy Driver’s cross found Skacel. The midfielder’s header bounced wide of target. Then came the opener, the start of the deluge, and the first goal in an all-Edinburgh cup final since Jo O’Neill’s consolation for Hibs at Logie Green on March 14, 1896. Grainger’s corner produced an untidy scramble inside the Hibs penalty area. When McGowan’s shot deflected off Matt Doherty, Barr calmly flicked the loose ball beyond Mark Brown for his first Hearts goal. He had been played onside by Pa Kujabi, the first error in a woeful display by the Gambian.

The advantage doubled when Ian Black’s clever pivot and reverse pass found Skacel 18 yards from goal. His effort skimmed off McPake, who had allowed the Czech a ridiculous amount of space to turn and shoot, on its way into the Hibs net. Essentially, that was game over as Skacel ran towards the Hibs fans in celebration. Ironically, Hearts didn’t even seem to be in top gear but were comfortably in control. McPake cleared Suso’s shot off his own goal line on 35 minutes as Hearts threatened to demolish their city rivals altogether. However, the centre-back procured an unlikely equaliser from Tom Soares’ low right-sided cross, which Andy Webster should have cleared, to restore faith amongst the Easter Road support before the interval.

“I said at half-time we had to go back out there like it was 0-0,” said Sergio. “If we gave Hibs a chance to get to 2-2 they would be motivated. We had to score to be safe.” They did just that. Not once, but twice. Kujabi tugged Suso’s shirt and inadvertently clipped his left heel after being skinned – again – by the Spaniard. The offences took place just outside the penalty area but Suso tumbled inside and was awarded a penalty by referee Craig Thomson, much to Hibs’ disgust. Kujabi, having already been cautioned for fouling Suso in the first half, earned a second yellow and subsequent red card.

Grainger stroked the ball high past Brown from 12 yards to claim his first Hearts goal. He indulged in a little party with his colleagues at the corner flag, momentarily forgetting they had the rest of the game to play. Within minutes, they scored again. Grainger’s low corner was delivered goalwards by Skacel, flicked on by Elliott and headed into an empty net by McGowan. He quite likes scoring against Hibs. Evidence of that came as he leapt around like a madman in a fit of joy.

The fifth came courtesy of a neat interchange of passes between Skacel and Suso 20 yards from goal. The Czech then sidestepped a challenge and placed the ball to Brown’s left, leaving the goalkeeper helpless as it nestled in the corner of the net. Hibs fans hate Skacel, he has scored five times in 11 appearances against them during two spells with Hearts. But he is now a free agent and Fenlon certainly needs players. Badly. Not that he would ever cross the Edinburgh divide.

At 5-1 the celebrating Hearts fans mocked their rivals’ manager. “There’s only one Pat Fenlon,” they chanted, prompting the Irishman to respond with an unseemly gesture in their direction.

He was ordered to the stand by Thomson despite protesting his innocence. There were only seconds left of this monumental Scottish Cup final and the names of the Hearts players were already engraved in history by then.

It was, in every sense, such a perfect day.