Hibs’ defence of the Scottish Cup ended in spirited fashion after Aberdeen edged an exhilarating semi-final at Hampden.
After a disastrous first half hour in which they fell two behind following errors by Darren McGregor and Ofir Marciano, the newly-crowned Championship winners responded magnificently to draw level through substitute Grant Holt and Dylan McGeouch. However, Aberdeen won it with six minutes left when Jonny Hayes’ strike took a huge deflection off McGregor and eluded Marciano.
Eleven months after their famous victory over Rangers in last year’s final, the Easter Road team were cheered off at the end by their 20,000 supporters who appreciated the effort they had put into trying to retain their trophy.
Hibs started in a 4-5-1 formation with Martin Boyle on the right and McGeouch on the left of a five-man midfield. Aberdeen winger Niall McGinn was listed among the substitutes after returning from a short injury lay-off.
All the pre-match talk had been of Hibs being in relaxed mood in the build-up after winning the Championship title last weekend. However, they were punished emphatically for a lackadaisical start as Aberdeen took the lead after just 13 seconds. Marvin Bartley ushered the ball back to McGregor, and the centre-back, usually so reliable, was horribly slack with a square pass to defensive sidekick Efe Ambrose and Adam Rooney nipped in to steal possession and despatch a clinical strike beyond Ofir Marciano from the edge of the box
Hibs struggled to recover their composure in the early stages and they fell behind in the 23rd minute after another error. Fraser Fyvie was booked after giving away a free-kick for a foul on Kenny McLean near the corner flag. Ryan Christie spotted Marciano slightly off his line and curled in a low effort which squirmed in at the Israeli’s near post.
With the Edinburgh side in danger of being swarmed, Lennon acted by taking off Fyvie in the 33rd minute and introducing Grant Holt in an effort to add more presence to the attack. Fyvie was visibly baffled by the decision as he made his way off.
However, there was vindication for the manager within three minutes when Martin Boyle picked up possession midway inside the Aberdeen half, darted into the right side of the penalty area and hung an inviting cross to the back post for Holt, who duly powered in a header from five yards out.
The Hibs support were galvanised by this and their team finished the first half in the ascendancy with John McGinn heading wide from a David Gray cross.
After an even start to the second half, Aberdeen right-back threatened with a low strike from 25 yards that ran inches wide of Marciano’s right-hand post. Dons manager Derek McInnes was clearly concerned by Holt’s influence on proceedings and responded by introducing Anthony O’Connor in place of attacker Christie in the 58th minute in order to add extra physical presence to the defence. Within two minutes of this change, Hibs had equalised, with Holt at the heart of it. McGeouch played a one-two with the big striker and the midfielder burst on to the return ball and sent a superb angled finish beyond Joe Lewis. Scenes of bedlam erupted among the Hibs support as Lennon danced jubilantly along to the corner flag.
When he returned to his technical area for the resumption of the match, he held his hand in the area for a sustained period, as if conducting the songs of his team’s delirious fans.
McGeouch, who has missed much of the season through injury, was taken off three minutes later. As he made his way off to be replaced by Andrew Shinnie, the goal hero received a warm hug from his manager.
Hibs looked the likelier side to go on and win it. However, it was Aberdeen who restored their lead with six minutes left when Jonny Hayes’ shot from 25 yards out, which looked like it was going to be dealt with by Marciano, took a huge deflection off McGregor and trundled agonisingly inside the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
In the last action of the match, Marciano went up for a corner and saw his powerful header from a McGinn delivery saved by Lewis. Hibs were loudly cheered off at the end by an appreciative support as they relinquished their trophy in gallant fashion.
Hibs: Marciano, Gray, McGregor, Ambrose (Graham 88), Stevenson, Boyle, Fyvie (Holt 33), McGinn, Bartley, (Shinnie 63), Cummings. Unused subs: Laidlaw, Keatings, Forster, Humphrey.
Booked: Fyvie 23, Holt 77.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds (McGinn 69), Considine, Jack, Shinnie, Christie (O’Connor 58), McLean, Hayes, Rooney. Unused subs: Alexander, Pawlett, Stockley, Wright, Storey.
Booked: Shinnie 81.
Ref: John Beaton