HIBERNIAN keep doing things the hard way in the Scottish Cup, but that will be of little concern to their supporters as they look forward to a quarter-final tie at Kilmarnock.
Scorers: Hibernian - Deegan (49)
Pat Fenlon’s team scraped through the fourth round with a 1-0 win at home to Hearts, and they reached the last eight by the same score yesterday. After a poor first half by both teams, Hibs took the initiative early in the second with a wonder strike by Gary Deegan, and held on despite some heavy pressure from Aberdeen in the closing stages.
The home team had Ben Williams to thank again for saving a Scott Vernon penalty and withstanding that late onslaught, but over the piece they deserved the win. It was the second week running Aberden failed to beat Williams from the penalty spot - Niall McGinn having been denied in the 0-0 draw at Pittodrie seven days earlier.
Deegan’s strike was far more incisive than anything Aberdeen could muster, while at the other end the goalkeeper was simply outstanding. They had also had some opportunities to score a second and put the match beyond doubt before that closing flurry of chances for Aberdeen.
Both sets of supporters, and any neutrals watching the game live on television, certainly had Deegan to thank for ensuring the second half was far livelier than the first. Both teams had fought out a goalless draw at Pittodrie in the league seven days earlier, and before the first half of this one had reached its mid point, people in the stands were already asking each other when the replay was.
After a very tentative opening, Alan Maybury, continuing from midweek in place of the injured Tim Clancy, was the first man on either side to make an attempt on goal. That was with eight minutes gone, and the Hibs right-back’s long-distance shot was not close enough to concern Jamie Langfield. Aberdeen’s first attempt came almost ten minutes later – a Clark Robertson volley which looped two or three feet over the crossbar.
Curiously, given how little time had elapsed by that point, both teams looked lethargic, as if they had come straight to this match from last Sunday’s game, with no time to rest in between. Indeed, most of the players’ activity in those opening 20 minutes had appeared to go into bursting the platoon of red and white balloons released on to the pitch by the Aberdeen fans when the teams came out.
By the time half an hour had passed, Craig Brown’s team had gained the upper hand, without ever making it look as if the opening goal was imminent, or would inevitably be scored by them. As they had done a week earlier, the visitors kept putting together neat passing moves – but too often at the expense of any meaningful forward movement. Jonny Hayes showed a little more menace with a deep cross from the right aimed at Rob Milsom, but Maybury had positioned himself well and hooked the ball clear.
Hibs came into the game a little more towards half-time, but their forays forward were no more effective. Playing at too low a tempo has been a persistent problem for Hibs over the past five or six weeks, and one which should have been rectified by now. Fenlon must have reminded them of that during the interval, because they began the second half in far livelier fashion, and soon took the lead.
A menacing free-kick from the right by Leigh Griffiths two minutes after the restart was the first sign of greater urgency from Hibs. Langfield got his fingers to the awkwardly curling delivery, and from the resulting corner Aberdeen came close to putting through their own goal. David Wotherspoon’s ball from the left looked set to hit the far post when Robertson mis-hit an attempted clearance, turning it back along the line. It looked set to cross the line, but Hayes managed to clear from the near post.
That was a close escape for Aberdeen, but they could do nothing another 60 seconds later to avoid going behind. Deegan took possession just inside the Aberdeen half, picked up speed, and while still some 30 yards out, unleashed a tremendous right-foot shot which hit off the underside of the bar and into the net.
The goal forced Aberdeen into life, but Hibs were far more assertive and looked in the mood to add a second. Griffiths came close to doing so with a 62nd-minute shot which was parried by Langfield and cleared as far as Ryan McGivern, who blasted over from outside the area.
Peter Pawlett had come on by that time as Craig Brown tried to shake up his side, then Matt Done came off the bench for his Hibs debut after joining on loan from Barnsley for the rest of the season. Griffiths had a chance to put the tie beyond doubt when Deegan chipped an inviting cross to him, but his scissors kick went straight to Langfield.
With time running out, Aberdeen at last became more incisive. Williams had had little to do in either half, but in quick succession he saved a Russell Anderson shot and then a Vernon header after the latter had replaced Gavin Rae.
Ten minutes from the end, a Pawlett shot was blocked, then a McGinn header was saved. That looked like the best chance Aberdeen would get, but then they were awarded a debatable penalty after James McPake had gone shoulder to shoulder with Hayes and nudged him over.
Vernon’s spot-kick was as soft as the award, and saved to his left by Williams, who has now saved four this season. In seven minutes of normal play and four of stoppage time, Aberdeen laid siege to the Hibs goal for much of that time, but produced only one real chance. That was when McGinn shot, and again Williams was equal to the challenge, tipping over the bar.
Hibernian: Williams, Maybury, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern, Wotherspoon (Done 72), Deegan (S Robertson 86), Claros, Stevenson, Cairney, Griffiths (Handling 89). Subs not used: Murdoch, Donaldson.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Osbourne, Anderson, Reynolds, Shaughnessy, Hughes, Rae (Vernon 75), C Robertson, Hayes, McGinn, Milsom (Pawlett 59). Subs not used: Twardzik, Magennis, Smith.
Referee: Iain Brines.