Hibs scored four goals and that achievement, in more simple days, would have sent the supporters home from Easter Road in a state of happiness, even delirium.
Instead, a crowd of 28,469 crept almost silently into the cobbled streets, for the fans knew all about the modern equations of European football.
Hibs’ four goals were held in the balance against the two that Hajduk Split scored in this first leg quarter-final of the Cup-winners Cup, and when the tie moved to the unclouded skies of the Dalmatian coast two weeks later the sums would have to be added up all over again.
That mathematician’s delight – the “away goals count double” rule – could well have been needed to settle which of these two strong sides moved into the last four of a tournament won last season by Rangers, who still held its ugly trophy in the Ibrox boardroom.
On the night, Hibs moved forward and the Yugoslavs back hard on the counter-attack in a handful of lethal breakaways. At the end they all shook hands, knowing that neither had already won the tie at this halfway stage and realising also that no-one knew who would be the eventual victors.
A fifth Hibs goal might have made it safe, but that could not be contrived in a long period of sustained aggression in the second half. They lacked that last grain of invention which could have added to Alan Gordon’s hat-trick.
We had been warned in the match programme not to underestimate a Yugoslavian club whose traditions were long and honourable. It was pointed out to us that they had won their championship six times and been cup winners twice. An esoteric paragraph informed us that of 4521 matches played in their history Hajduk had won 3171 of them. That proved more about the minds of statisticians than it told us about the team on the pitch.
Hibs frequently looked as if this tie was well in their grasp, but they were given little help by the Spanish referee, Antonio Camacho, who prompted one committed Edinburgh citizen to tell him: “Ye couldnae referee a bull fight”. He denied Hibs two possible penalties.
But the Scottish side really made enough chances of their own. They were ahead after six minutes when Dzon pulled down Duncan as he made the first of a series of strong runs down the left wing. Alex Edwards, relishing his night of parole from an eight-week SFA suspension, took the free kick, tossed it into the penalty area, and the head of Gordon, that piece of anatomy which has established him as Europe’s leading goalscorer, nodded the ball into the net.
After 27 minutes Hibs went further ahead, when Duncan pushed a small pass through the Hajduk defence and Alex Cropley turned it past a defender before laying the ball back into an uncrowded penalty area for Gordon again to supply the killing touch.
It all looked so easy, but then after 37 minutes, Hajduk made the first of their replies with a cool and professional goal – fashioned with total economy and greeted with total silence. A quick pass out of defence found Surjak on the left-wing and his cross curled away from Jim Herriot for Hlevajak to head into the net.
There followed an aggressive period before half-time in which Gordon was pushed blatantly in mid-air well inside the penalty area and some out-of-order aggression from Edwards went fortunately unnoticed by the referee.
The game was on a knife-edge at the interval, but 20 minutes later Hibs seemed to have it comfortably won. Two minutes after they came back Pat Stanton pushed a good through ball past an over-crowded line of defenders and Duncan closed into within inches of goalkeeper Sirkovic. As the ball broke free the Hibs’ winger collected the rebound and despite protests about handball, guided the third goal into the net.
After 69 minutes Hibs scored their fourth, the best of the match. Stanton again placed a colleague free. This time it was Erich Schaedler, who twisted past two defenders with fine skill and hit a cross shot that Sirkovic could only parry. Gordon was waiting at the far post for the bits an pieces and touched the ball over the line for his hat-trick.
This should have been enough, but the Yugoslavs were brave. Jerkovic hit the post after 75 minutes and this inspired them. Five minutes later, in an intense penalty area scramble which Hibs could not loosen, Hlevajak finally prodded the ball over the line.
Hibs were eliminated in Yugoslavia, losing the second leg 3-0.
Hibs: Herriot, Bremner, Schaedler, Stanton, Black, Blackley, Edwards, Higgins, Gordon, Cropley, Duncan.