As a life-long Hibs fan, Liam Buchanan knows just how much hurt the Scottish Cup has brought to the Easter Road club – but today the Alloa Athletic striker admitted he’s hoping to inflict further pain on the Capital outfit.
Buchanan sparked Alloa’s fightback earlier this season when they beat Alan Stubbs’ team in the Championship and he’s certainly the man Hibs will have to watch in Saturday’s fourth round tie, having set a record for the Clackmannanshire side by scoring in each of his last seven matches.
Even so, the 29-year-old believes he and his team-mates will have to top the performance they produced back in August if they are to progress, having noted the undeniable improvement Alan Stubbs’ side have shown over the intervening period, Saturday’s win over Dumbarton stretching their unbeaten league run to eight matches.
He said: “It looks as if Hibs are hitting a bit of form. I think at the start of the season they weren’t settled, they were getting used to life in the Championship, but recently they seem to be playing better football. Alan Stubbs has added his own players and they are looking a lot better for it.
“It isn’t easy in this league to go on a run as they have, but they seem to have turned the corner. They’re playing better football, looking more positive and are picking up results.
“It’s a massive game, a club like Hibs coming to Alloa, and with the game being in the Scottish Cup it’s that bit more special. We did really well earlier in the season. It was a great result for us, but this time round I think we will have to play even better. It’s going to be hard and we know we’ll have to be on our best game.”
Buchanan is naturally proud of his recent goal-scoring record, the former Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Partick Thistle, Sligo Rovers, Ayr United and East Fife hitman saying: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in the sort of form I’m in at the moment.
“It’s great for me, but the most important thing is that the team is picking up points and making progress in the cup as well. Personal glory means nothing if the team isn’t doing well and I know that with quality guys like Stephen Simmons, Kevin Cawley and Graeme Holmes in the side it makes it that much easier. They are behind you setting you up when you make runs.”
As always when Hibs embark on their annual Scottish Cup campaign, the first question is always will this be their year, the first they’ll get their hands on the trophy for what, come next May’s final, will be 103 years? The answer, much as it might pain Buchanan to say so, is that he hopes that long wait will go on for further 12 months.
He said: “Obviously Hibs have been desperate for many a year. I’ve been there myself, to semi-finals and finals, and it’s been pretty painful. Of course I would love to see Hibs do well, but on Saturday it won’t come into my mind that I am a Hibs fan. It will all be about getting Alloa into the next round and I’d be as disappointed as I am after any game we lose if we were beaten.
“I don’t think you can take too much from our win earlier in the season, although we can obviously take confidence from the fact we know we have it within ourselves to beat them. We have to use that as a positive while there’s a lot of pressure on them to do well in the competition because of past history.
“Having said that, though, I’m sure they’ll be arriving brimming with confidence. They’ve been winning games, picking up points and scoring goals which doesn’t do anyone any harm.”
Stubbs made clear his dislike for plastic pitches such as that at the Wasps’ Indodrill Stadium where Buchanan and his team-mates have also held Rangers to a draw and were beaten only by a last-gasp goal by Championship leaders Hearts.
Buchanan said: “I suppose it sometimes is an advantage for us because we play on it a lot. People do have a go at it from time-to-time and I think sometimes they go looking for an ‘out’, an excuse, rather than having a look at their own performance. Perhaps it’s a little bit harsh at times, but we feel we should also be given credit for how we’ve played against Hibs, Rangers and Hearts. On the day we proved we can compete with them and most teams in the league.
“It’s not a case of us rising to the occasion when we’ve played the three big teams. We know that every week we have to be at the top of your game or you won’t get the result. If we don’t quite apply ourselves as we should on Saturday, Hibs are capable of punishing us.”
Alloa go into the cup tie as a part-time side facing players who, Stubbs insisted, are reaping the rewards for the hard work which has taken place unseen on strength and conditioning, but, Buchanan claimed, that won’t be a handicap.
He said: “We are as fit as full-time teams. We don’t train every day as they do, but Tam Ritchie, who used to be fitness coach at Hearts, comes in on a Tuesday night and we know every time we train we have to work as hard as possible.
“I think it shows – there’s not been a game in which we’ve tired. We’ve got some really fit boys in the team and if a little bit of sharpness is maybe missing because we aren’t in every day, our general fitness is as good as anyone’s.
“On a personal level, I feel the gaffer [Barry Smith] is getting the best out of me. I’m enjoying my football as much as I have at any time in my career and it wasn’t until I started playing with these guys that I appreciated how good they are. We’ve got a fair bit of experience in there and someone like Kevin Cawley can change a game for you. He is very tricky on the ball, very lively and always demanding possession.”
Buchanan, though, is aware of the threat Hibs now carry, revealing: “I was at the last derby when they were very unlucky not to win. Dominique Malonga caused the Hearts defenders all sorts of problems and he’ll be on a high having scored a hat-trick and won his first international cap, so he’s one we’ll have to make sure we stop.
“I thought Dylan McGeouch was excellent in the derby, but unfortunately for him and Hibs he’s injured at the moment. However, Scott Allan has been one that’s really stood out in their past few matches. He’s coming back into his own, looks more settled, and as if he’s enjoying his football again.
“He’s showing the form that persuaded Roy Hodgson to take him to West Brom a few years ago.
“Someone like the England manager obviously knows a quality player when he sees one. Unfortunately for Scott, it didn’t work out down there for whatever reason, but he looks back to that sort of form now.”