Hibs 2, Aberdeen 0: Famous win for Stubbs’ men

Jason Cummings celebrates his opening goal for Hibs
Jason Cummings celebrates his opening goal for Hibs
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“He would say that,” was undoubtedly the reaction of most when Hibs boss Alan Stubbs declared ahead of this visit from table-topping Aberdeen that his side could cope with life in the Premiership.

The Dons’ after all, had swept all before them thus far, stretching out a five-point lead on champions Celtic and looking unsinkable.

But late goals from Jason Cummings and substitute Dominique Malonga gave the Championship side and their fans a night to remember as they sent the Dandy Dons crashing out of the League Cup, a repeat of the last time these clubs had met in this competition.

Sunshine on Leith blasted out around the stadium as Derek McInnes’ side departed, their tails firmly between their legs, as Stubbs’ triumphant side took a well deserved lap of honour having not only matched their top-flight rivals but, in the end, beating them convincingly.

There was a touch of déjà vu about proceedings in that the last time these two sides met in the League Cup their respective circumstances were vastly similar.

That August night 17 years ago Hibs were in the second tier of Scottish football with Aberdeen arriving at Easter Road unbeaten although their current streak of eight straight Premiership wins was far more impressive than way back then.

Such a record and the fact the Dons enjoy a five-point lead over champions Celtic made Derek McInnes’ side firm favourites to continue that winning run against their Championship rivals, Stubbs, while adamant his players would “give it a go,” conceding they’d need to be at their very best to pull off an even bigger shock this time round.

Stubbs' plans to do just that included a reshaping of his side, opting for a back three with Darren McGregor drafted in alongside Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine with full-backs David Gray and Lewis Stevenson pushed down the flanks while the pace of Martin Boyle was favoured up front with Jason Cummings rather than the languid style of Malonga.

Aberdeen, too, made changes, top scorer Adam Rooney returning to the side at the expense of Peter Pawlett while Graeme Shinnie moved to left back with Andy Considine partnering Ash Taylor in central defence rather than Paul Quinn.

Stubbs promise not to sit in was evident from the off, Taylor forced to cut out a dangerous low cross from David Gray before Cummings brought Danny Ward into action, his shot on target but nothing more than catching practice for the Dons goalkeeper.

Aberdeen’s pace and power had proved too much for Hearts four days earlier at Tynecastle and twice they threatened, Paul Hanlon just managing to run Niall McGinn off the ball before David Goodwillie’s cross, intended for Rooney at the back, was intercepted by McGregor.

Aberdeen keeper Danny Ward failed to make a Boyle shot stick, scrambling back to his feet to launch himself at the ball just before Gray could capitalise and then a Considine foul on John McGinn offered Liam Henderson the opportunity to conjure up a repeat of his sumptuous winner against Livingston at the weekend.

Unfortunately on his occasion he could only fire it high over the target.

It was proving to be much more of an even contest than many outwith the Hibs camp had predicted, both sides intent on playing attractive, attacking football without a corresponding number of clear-cut chances at either end.

Mark Oxley, though, had to look sharp to get down to a low effort from Rooney before Ward again needed a second bite to hold a Boyle drive which, while powerfully struck, was virtually straight at him.

The Hibs goalkeeper had a touch of luck five minutes before the interval as he opted to dive at a cross which had been whipped in by Kenny McLean only to inadvertently punch the ball off the body of Rooney. Thankfully it broke wide and the danger was averted.

The first half may have ended goal-less but the home support, joined by Davis Cup hero Jamie Murray and captain Leon Smith, were nevertheless appreciative of the efforts of Stubbs’ players in not only in containing Scotland’s team of the moment and restricting them to so few half-chances but in the enterprise they had shown themselves although, at times, their ball retention could have been better.

The Aberdeen fans sitting the South Stand would, on the other hand, have undoubtedly been a touch disappointed in their side’s performance, early injuries to Willo Flood and Shinnie forcing McInnes to reshape his side and so reducing his options for further change as the game wore on.

Taylor just managed to get a toe to the ball as Boyle threatened but Aberdeen were convinced they should have had a penalty as Hanlon appeared to ease Niall McGinn off the ball and as the Dons attempted to ratchet things up, Considine sent a header wide.

McGinn, Henderson and Dylan McGeouch were getting through a power of work in the middle of the park as Hibs strove to take a tighter grip of proceedings but were unable to exert any sustained pressure on the visiting defence.

Cummings did bring the home fans to their feet, though, as he outpaced Considine in a 50-yard dash from the halfway line, then turning the Dons defender and his team-mate Taylor only to find the angle against him as he attempted to put the finishing touch to what would have been a wonderful solo goal.

Nevertheless, the green and white army were beginning to sense something special might be in the offing, the decibel level rising as the Aberdeen support became more muted and anxious.

And something special did happen. Cummings taking a loose ball on the turn at the edge of the Dons penalty area and unleashing a tremendous left foot shot which flew past the helpless Ward.

Even then it got better, Malonga had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes when he also ran from the halfway line before rounding the last defender Taylor and coolly slotting the ball into the bottom corner of Ward’s net.

Hibs: Oxley, McGregor, Hanlon, Fontaine, Gray, McGeouch, McGinn, Henderson (Carmichael 62), Stevenson, Boyle (Bartley 89), Cummings (Malonga 85). Unused subs: Stanton, Reguero, Dunsmore, Martin.

Aberdeen: Ward, Logan, Considine, Taylor, Shinnie (McLaughlin 27), Flood (Pawlett 17), Jack, McLean, McGinn, Goodwillie (Parker 84), Rooney. Unused subs: Smith, Robson, Pawlett, Quinn, Brown, McLaughlin, Parker.

Referee: Steven McLean

Crowd: 11,092.