Hibs goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw has admitted he can only hope the Hampden howler which gifted Celtic a two-goal lead and sent them on their way to the Betfred Cup final hasn’t cost him his place for tomorrow night’s derby with Capital rivals Hearts.
The former Raith Rovers player had drawn praise from boss Neil Lennon for his performances in recent matches after taking over from Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano.
But both he and Lennon conceded he should have done much better than simply push a low shot from Mikael Lustig high into his own net, the Celtic defender having earlier fired his side into the lead when, again, the Hibs defence was found wanting.
However, a two-goal advantage at the interval left Lennon’s players with a massive challenge against a team aiming for a 60th game unbeaten in domestic competition and, despite a spirited second-half fightback, it proved just too much for them.
Anthony Stokes reduced the deficit from the penalty spot after Dedryck Boyata was adjudged to have fouled Martin Boyle, whose appearance in place of Marvin Bartley after the interval injected some much-needed life into Hibs’ forward play.
Stokes’ eighth goal of the season raised the hopes of the disappointingly small Hibs support – there were huge swathes of empty seats in the national stadium after the Edinburgh club were given an equal share of tickets.
It was, though, short-lived as Celtic, who were looking as if they were beginning to tire following their exertions as they were given a Champions League runaround by Bayern Munich in Germany a few days earlier, enjoyed a huge slice of luck.
Scott Sinclair’s scuffed shot fell at the feet of substitute Moussa Dembele, who had time to control the ball and fire it past Laidlaw. Teenager Oli Shaw’s goal raised Hibs’ spirits once again but, with only two minutes on the clock, Dembele struck again to ensure even a sniff of extra time had gone.
Laidlaw, who pulled off impressive saves from James Forrest and Dembele in that second period, admitted he and his team-mates had failed to match Celtic in the manner they had in the east end of Glasgow only a few weeks earlier when they emerged with a 2-2 draw.
The 25-year-old said: “I was very disappointing. We came here to get a result and we didn’t. The way we lost the first two goals was really disappointing.
“I could have done better at the second one. The ball just skidded through along the floor more quickly than I thought it would. I didn’t really see it until it came to the back post and he’s hit it horribly. I just tried to get something on it, but I put it in the back of the net which is obviously really disappointing.”
Laidlaw, though, wasn’t the only one culpable, Lustig having peeled off Hibs skipper David Gray to meet Leigh Griffiths’ corner while on-loan Manchester City winger Brandon Barker held up his hand to admit he’d allowed the Swedish defender to get away for him to score his first from a similar position.
Having looked too passive in the first half, Hibs rallied after the interval but discovered, as they had back in April when they gifted Aberdeen a two-goal lead in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, to allow such opposition such an advantage rarely works out in your favour.
Laidlaw said: “We did well after the break. We rallied round and the manager made a couple of changes. We had to do that. We got back into the game but gave away another cheap goal and their fourth came late on when we were trying to get back on level terms.
“We did really well in the second half and it looked as if they tired after their tough game during the week, but it’s frustrating we have gone out.
“They are a great team – that’s why they have gone 60 games undefeated. We thought we could match them but we didn’t quite manage to do it.”
Again, while unhappy at the final outcome – Hibs having won just two of their last nine matches – Lennon professed to be happy enough with his side’s display.
He said: “The manner of the goals was very disappointing, but over the course of the game I was really pleased with the players. There were some outstanding performances.
“It was just the manner of the goals, just the little things that add up that we can do better. I think my goalkeeper will be disappointed with the second one – 2-0 leaves us with a lot to do.
“I do not want to be gallant losers, but I’d rather lose 4-2 going for it than let the game peter out 3-2. We had a real go at it, but we have to defend better at times.
“I have got to take a lot of positives from the game. The little things that they do better. It all adds up eventually.”
Now, insisted Laidlaw, he and his team-mates will look to bounce back against Hearts, putting the events of Saturday behind them just as he had to banish any thoughts of his error.
He said: “Goalkeepers are going to make mistakes, and I made one. I have to move on from it. In the second half I had to erase it from my memory. It’s in the back of your mind, but I had to play as if it didn’t happen.
“What you want is a chance to bounce back right away. Hopefully we can get a result against Hearts. It’s not just that it’s a derby game, we want to win every game. We have to believe we can get a result.”
And as for his own position? Laidlaw said: “We’ll need to see what happens. It’s the manager’s decision. I’ve come in and I’ve done all right, but I should have done better with their second goal. We’ll see what the manager does.”