Hibs survive Cup scare as manager enjoys maiden victory

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The vultures were, metaphorically speaking, circling above Central Park, ready to swoop and pick over the bones of Hibs’ season.

No football fan except, of course, if it is your own club, likes anything better than a good, old-fashioned Cup shock, David slaying Goliath, the opportunity to indulge in more than a little fun and torment at someone else’s expense.

Hibs have been on the receiving end of such moments all too often in recent seasons, think back to Ayr United a year ago and Ross County 12 months prior to that, those defeats helping contribute, as Hearts supporters had gleefully reminded their Capital rivals only a few days earlier, 110 years without getting their hands on the Scottish Cup.

And, if truth be told, all the warning signs were there as Pat Fenlon prepared to take his side across the Forth, the Easter Road side struggling at the foot of the SPL table, the Irishman without a win in five matches and the Easter Road outfit with just one victory to their name in their previous 13 games.

Cowdenbeath, on the other hand, may be two steps down but the Fife side have been flying high, half-a-dozen points clear at the top of the Second Division and unbeaten in their last eight fixtures having not lost a goal in six of them. Not to mention the fact that Colin Cameron’s players were to “enjoy” the benefit of home advantage, unbeaten at their antiquated little ground all season, the tiny, bumpy pitch encircled by that famous stock car racing track – all far removed from the splendour which is now Easter Road.

Little wonder, then, that a great deal more attention was being paid to this particular tie than might have been in different circumstances, the already raucous local natives anticipating being the centre of attraction 90 minutes later as they greeted the arrival of the two teams by hammering on the sheet metal sides of the stands.

The decibels shot up even further just 15 seconds on, former Hearts midfielder Cameron, still parading his skills at the age of 39, clipping the ball in for Greig Stewart to evade the challenge of Sean O’Hanlon as the Hibs defender slipped to crack the ball beyond goalkeeper Mark Brown.

Exactly the sort of start Fenlon would have warned his players against although he’d probably reflect that if the Blue Brazil were to get the first goal then it would be better they did so in the first minute rather than the last.

Nevertheless, it was a test of Hibs’ character, their confidence already eroded by their slide to the foot of the SPL table where they face a massive match against basement side Dunfermline this coming Saturday.

“There’s a couple of things that go through your mind,” conceded Fenlon when asked how he felt at that particular moment. “You either think ‘here we go again,’ or ‘it might not be a bad thing because they’ll realise what it’s about today’.”

Thankfully for Fenlon it was the latter, Leigh Griffiths equalising with a stunning left foot shot from 30 yards which clipped the underside of goalkeeper Thomas Flynn’s crossbar on its way in. The former Hibs kid was there after kept busy, twice saving from Eoin Doyle before the ex-Sligo Rovers star, signed for his prolific strike-rate, notched his first goal in a green and white shirt.

Flynn may again have been up to Doyle’s first effort but the flame-haired forward was first to react to the rebound, clipping it home. Griffiths hit the bar with a free-kick and Kenneth Adamson took an O’Hanlon header off the line as Hibs pressed for more, a third coming after the interval as David Wotherspoon threw himself at Danny Galbraith’s cross to head past Flynn.

It may have looked all over but Cowdenbeath, the crowd implored to raise the roof by the sight of club mascot Bluebell racing around the track on a bike waving a Brazilian flag, didn’t throw in the towel. With the stiff breeze which had been at Hibs’ back in the opening 45 minutes now strengthening, they began to pin Fenlon’s side inside their own half.

Hibs had already had one escape before Wotherspoon’s first goal of the season, a mighty clearance from Adamson finding Stewart all alone inside their penalty area. Callum Booth came sliding in from behind, made no contact with either man or ball but did enough to put the goal scorer off on this occasion.

There was no such intervention 21 minutes from the end as Jon Robertson – how the merest mention of that name must send shivers down the spine of Hibs fans – produced a finish which would have brought approval from his Gorgie namesake, the midfielder lofting the ball past O’Hanlon before knocking it past Brown.

Robbo, however, would have been less impressed ten minutes later when Robertson’s composure deserted him as he sliced wide from a great position when an equaliser would have caused the Edinburgh club all sorts of consternation and renewed the interest of those vultures who had resigned themselves to the fact the chance of being able to feast on the carcass of Hibs had gone.

Nevertheless, it was as close-run as had been predicted, the over-riding concern for Hibs just being in today’s fifth round draw as captain Ivan Sproule admitted. The winger said: “Cup ties are never easy. Coming here we knew they’re riding high in their league, and it was an awkward pitch which is a bit of a leveller.

“But the most important thing in the Cup is to get into the next round. A few people had written us off so it’s just nice to get through. There’s always added pressure when you’re down at the bottom of the league which is always in the back of your mind even when you’re playing Cup ties.

“But we knew the performance wasn’t the main thing. This wasn’t against SPL opponents, but a win is a win and when you are not getting wins you have to take something out of it.”

Sproule and Fenlon agreed Hibs should have had more goals in the first half before allowing themselves to drop deeper and deeper, inviting Cowdenbeath on to them. He said: “We should have had more than three goals, really. We’ve missed a few chances but, as I say, the important thing is we got more than them.

“You’ve seen it before at Cup ties when big teams have fallen and we could have fallen quite easily. That would have been the headlines, and everybody knows it.

“It was a test of character, as the gaffer rightly said afterwards ‘Listen, you’ve won the game. Enjoy it’.”

There will be little time for that, however, with the crucial clash against the Pars looming, as Sproule admitted, Hibs in need of playing better. He said: “The big one comes against Dunfermline, the performance will have to be bigger and better when we play Dunfermline, because that’s the one we’ve got to rely on now we’ve got this one out of the way.”