Hibs' Joe Newell: 'I’m not sure how, but hopefully we get a bit of revenge on Sunday'
There were scenes of joy at Tannadice on Thursday night as Hibs booked their return to Hampden and a fifth successive cup semi final.
And, as strange as it may seem, with Celtic and Rangers the only other options, there was also a sense of relief among many in the Leith support when the last four match-ups were drawn post-match and they avoided St Johnstone.
The Perth side proved their undoing in both the League and Scottish Cup last season, and proved just as irksome to Jack Ross and his team on league duty, the Saints winning two, drawing one and losing one.
Parking cup chatter until the end of November, the clubs turn attention back to league duty on Sunday and this time there is no avoiding their first face-up since May’s Scottish Cup final.
In the capital rather than the national stadium, while Hibs will be determined to turnaround fortunes, the fact is even home advantage offers little pre-match succour when dealing with a club who have not lost at Easter Road since 2012.
But, having finished above them in the Premiership last term and, having started the new campaign in positive form, sitting second in the table, unbeaten after half a dozen games, there is a feeling in the Hibs dressing room that they have a point to prove.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Joe Newell, who opened the scoring against Dundee United on Thursday and joked that he now wanted to be known as a goalscoring midfielder, despite only managing one in each of his past two seasons. “Obviously they done us last year, didn’t they?
“We know all about them, their strengths and their threats. So, hopefully we have learned a few lessons on how to approach the game.” But simply adapting their approach to cultivate a win may not be straightforward when it has proved so hard to pinpoint exactly why Callum Davidson and his player had the upper hand.
“If I could tell you that, I’d be in charge I think,” conceded the Englishman. “But, I ain’t got a clue. I don’t know what it was, but they’re a hard team to play against.
“They’re resolute, their very togetherness was really good last year and it was just an unbelievable year for them, to do the double. All credit to them, they fully deserved it. We didn’t deserve it. So I’m not sure how, but hopefully we get a bit of revenge on Sunday.”
“We just need to remember why we are a good team,” added his manager, who was thrilled with the first half performance on Thursday night and the quality of the build up and finishing for the three goals that put the match beyond United’s reach before the game had even reached half-time. “On Saturday we fell short but in parts of that game against Dundee United on Thursday, we were back at our best and we will need that again on Sunday.”
A tough task made tougher by the fact that while Hibs had to wait until Thursday to play their Premier Sports Cup quarter final, St Johnstone were able to book their semi-final spot on Wednesday, giving them an extra 24 hours to prepare.
“We are going to be tired,” admitted Newell. “It’s a quick turnaround but it’s a game at home we’re expecting to win.”
While it does not carry the same prize at those make or break Hampden showdowns, as Hibs look to maintain their early season momentum, there is plenty at stake.
“Yeah, it’s a league game at the end of September, so it’s not all or nothing. It’s a team that obviously beat us in the final last year so we want to beat them but it’s not the biggest game in the world I don’t think.”
There are encouraging signs for Hibs, in the home form that has manifested in seven points from a possible nine so far and the way the side have produced goals from every department.
“That is big for us,” said Ross after Newell and Scott Allan became the latest midfielders to boost the goal count. “Last season I spoke about it. It didn’t end up having too much of a bearing on us because of the contribution Kevin [Nisbet], Christian [Doidge] and Martin [Boyle] made between the three of them, but we wanted the midfielders to do more of that. Kyle [Magennis] has done it early season, Joe should do more of it because he is a brilliant player who is really important to us and has a lot of talent and ability and he knows that. We speak about that a lot, about getting him higher up the pitch and scoring goals so I am pleased for him. Add to that Scott’s contribution and I am really pleased because we can’t be overly reliant on the same forward players.”
“No, they don’t come along often, hence the shocked celebration,” explained Newell, who celebrated his goal against United by clasping his hand over his mouth. “It was nice to get a goal and, obviously, it was the perfect start for us as a team.
“When Scotty’s on it you know he is going to pop up with chances and create things which is good to have and then his was a lovely finish.”
Well aware how close the club came to trading him to St Mirren, Newell said the players never doubted his ingenuity and technical ability or the role he can play in manufacturing wins.
“We all know the ability he’s got. Everyone in the country knows Scotty’s talent.“He’s been through such a tough time individually with the stuff he’s had to deal with. Obviously the deadline thing that nearly happened shows the character he has to just come back in.”
Character and ingenuity will both be needed on Sunday. And, it might be worth noting that Allan started the only game Hibs won against St Johnstone last term.