Hibs made it through to their second League Cup final in three years after an extra-time victory over First Division St Johnstone at Tynecastle.
Hibs suffered Hampden heartache in 2004 when they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat by Davie Hay’s Livingston in the final, more than 40,000 Hibees left in utter despair as second-half goals from Derek Lilley and Jamie McAllister sealed cup euphoria for Livi.
However, Hibs booked their return to the national stadium with a battling win over a dogged Saints side who had forced extra time when a Jason Scotland header cancelled out Steven Fletcher’s first-half goal. But a rather fortuitous David Murphy free-kick just two minutes into the additional period and a Abdessalam Benjelloun solo effort on the stroke of full time settled the tie.
Guillaume Beuzelin was restored to the starting line-up following Kevin Thomson’s £2million move to Rangers. Dean Shiels was also preferred to teenager Lewis Stevenson in a more attacking midfield role.
But it was Fletcher who got the ball rolling with the opener coming after just three minutes of the kick off.
Ivan Sproule gathered the ball out wide before darting towards the by-line and from his cut-back, Fletcher was perfectly placed to prod the ball beyond goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert from around 12 yards. That early goal appeared to galvanise John Collins’ side as midfielder Scott Brown tried his luck from some 25 yards and his shot rattled the top of the crossbar.
However, St Johnstone’s Kevin James then went agonisingly close to finding an equaliser as his towering header just cleared the far top corner before Martin Hardie’s net-bound effort was deflected wide for a corner as Saints began to dictate proceedings.
The second half followed a similar tone, Saints looking the more threatening as Hibs appeared content to rest on their lead and try and soak up the pressure.
However, increasing pressure from the Perth side finally paid off as substitute Filipe Morais – a former HIbee – delivered a perfectly weighted cross for Scotland who glanced the ball over the helpless McNeil and into the net.
Hibs, though, again seized the advantage just two minutes into extra time as Cuthbert made a hash of Murphy’s curling 30-yard free-kick as he could only help push the ball into his own net. Murphy again tried his luck minutes later from distance which saw the ball deflect onto the goal frame as Hibs went in search of a killer third.
And that duly arrived in the final minute of play as Benjelloun broke clear of the Saints defence before rounding Cuthbert to seal Hibs’ passage through to the final.
Hibs: McNeil, Whittaker, Murphy, Martis, Jones, Stewart, Shiels, Scott Brown, Beuzelin, Sproule, Fletcher.