It was the dream which threatened to turn into a nightmare. After weeks of waiting for the chance to show new boss Pat Fenlon what he could do, Hibs goalkeeper Mark Brown found himself picking the ball out of the net in just 15 seconds.
Not, as he noted, the sort of start he would have wanted, but today the Easter Road star insisted even that disappointment wasn’t going to spoil his day, his first Saturday afternoon match in five months.
Having been confined to appearances in the Scottish Communities’ League Cup this season by former manager Colin Calderwood, Brown admitted he could have wished for a more gentle reintroduction to first-team action than Cowdenbeath at Central Park.
All eyes were on Hibs, struggling at the foot of the SPL table while, in stark contrast, the Blue Brazil were flying high, six points clear at the top of the Second Division and unbeaten at home.
It was, as Brown confessed, the classic scenario for a major upset with, perhaps, more than a few looking for a goalkeeping error – the calf strain suffered by Graham Stack in the Edinburgh derby thrusting him into the spotlight – to help end Hibs’ interest in the William Hill Scottish Cup for another season.
A shock certainly looked on the cards when Cowden striker Greig Stewart claimed that stunning early strike but, Brown claimed, Fenlon’s players answered those who questioned if they had the bottle for such a fight in emphatic fashion.
He said: “Obviously it was disappointing to lose a goal so early on, not from my point-of-view, but the team because it was going to make our job a lot harder.
“Unfortunately it was one of those things, they kicked off, we didn’t clear the ball, it was played back into our box, their guy turned our defender and got his shot away.
“There wasn’t a lot I could do about it and it was the last thing we wanted but the most important thing was the way we reacted. We didn’t let it affect us or put our heads down, we rolled up the sleeves, got on with it and at the end of the day got the victory.
“It was a massive game for the club and a lot of people thought that could be the big cup upset. It wasn’t pretty at times, conditions were trying, the pitch was bumpy and the wind was like a hurricane in our faces in the second half.
“It was hard just trying to clear our lines and at times it was backs-to-the-wall stuff but I think there have been occasions this season when we wouldn’t have come away with a win.”
Despite his lack of top-flight action – the last of his three appearances this season having been in October – Brown was adamant he didn’t feel under any greater pressure than usual as he ran out at the ramshackle Fife ground.
He said: “I’d played there only once before, for Rangers’ youth team when I was about 16 and it was everything I remembered, I don’t think it had changed much.
“It wasn’t the ideal place or conditions, but you cannot pick and choose, you just get on with it.
“Of course you’d want the pitch to be perfect and the weather fine but you play football all year round and deal with all sorts of conditions.
“With the benefit of hindsight I think we should perhaps have played against the wind in the first half.
“I know there is the train of thought that you should play with it, hope to get a few goals and finish the match off but during the first 45 minutes it got really strong.” Brown, though, displayed the attention to detail he’s shown throughout recent months, spending much of the interval out on the park with goalkeeping coach Scott Thomson. He said: “We went out to do a few crosses to get used to the wind and see how it affected things. It got worse and worse, life was difficult but the way we battled and managed to hang on was great. I can’t say I really felt under any greater pressure because I hadn’t played for a while because the pressure is always there to perform. And, to be honest, I actually felt pretty good when we were under the cosh, that shows what you do behind-the-scenes pays off when it comes to matchday.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been frustrating when you feel you should be playing but aren’t. It’s hard to take and there have been times I thought I might get an opportunity.
“It can get hard to keep going, training all week and not getting the reward on a Saturday and, in fact, the Cowdenbeath game was the first Saturday afternoon match I’d had since we played Sunderland at the beginning of August.”
Brown admitted playing on the first weekend of the New Year has given him hope he’ll feature more regularly over the coming months, the calendar year of 2011 having seen him in and out of the Hibs team.
He recalled: “From the second game of last season until January I was in goal and, I thought, playing really well. I’d made one mistake, against Dundee United, early in Colin Calderwood’s time as manager, but had done nothing wrong and then he decided to rotate the goalkeepers.”
Graham Smith was reintroduced to the team, Stack returned from injury, Brown was recalled and then Czech trialist Jakub Divis was given an opportunity before Brown played the final game of the season.
And to this day he remains puzzled by the train of events. He said: “It was strange. I played 28 games last season, a large chunk of them in the first half of the season, then I was out, back in, out again and then in for the last game.
“Then in pre-season I thought I’d done well and was disappointed not to get the nod for the first game. Since then it has been a case of biding my time.”
Now Brown has his eyes on Saturday’s crunch SPL clash with fellow strugglers Dunfermline, agreeing it’s high time Fenlon’s players began to haul themselves away from the relegation zone where only one point separates them from the Pars.
He said: “It’s another massive game as was the Cowdenbeath match. But while a cup run is good, the most important thing for the club is the league.
“The players need to stand up and be counted, we need to get our fingers out, get points on the board and get up that table.
“We’ve got a first win for the manager which is great, that’s a monkey off his back in that he’d been getting asked questions every week about us not winning.
“That’s gone and now we can concentrate on getting the points we need.”