How Hibs lost out to St Johnstone in 2021 Scottish Cup final
The signs around Perth in the build-up read “Impossible dream”. But with this St Johnstone side, nothing is impossible, as they proved once again in one of the most remarkable seasons in Scottish football.
Hibs whose consistency over the course of the Premiership campaign had enabled them to book third place, were looking to add to that and make some history of their own by registering the club’s most successful season since the 1950s when they were actually winning the top league. With speculation linking a number of them with summer moves, it was also the likely swansong for this side as a collective force.
The stage was set. It was a perfect Scottish Cup final day. Bright skies, a well-manicured stage, managerial buttonholes on suits, and the pyrotechnics as both teams emerged from the tunnel.
Passing the prized silverware on its pedestal, all that was missing was the fans.
And, this was a day they deserved to be part of. The sea of blue-and-white at one end of the national stadium, the green-and-white at the other.
Having sealed fifth place in the league, Callum Davidson had already been singled him out as one of the main contenders for Manager of the Year. Had the votes been cast after this match, few if any could have argued there is a more worthy contender, as the managerial debutant completed the unthinkable cup double amid challenging Covid conditions, adding the Scottish to the League Cup already safely ensconced inside McDiarmid Park.
Hibs tried to make an impression in the early stages as Jackson Irvine hooked a ball over from the byline on the left. As the ball dropped for Martin Boyle on the other side of the area, he shaped up to volley but could only manage a fresh air shot. It summed up what was to come for the remainder of the 90 minutes. Hibs had no end product.
There were spells of pressure from both sides but there was no way through for Jack Ross’ side as the St Johnstone backline dealt with a Hbs attack.
It is a frontline that has been in prolific form but once again, against the Perth side, they were well-marshalled and left the field frustrated.
In the eighth minute the League Cup winners advanced as Shaun Rooney and Ali McCann linked up and Glenn Middleton all linked up and then Craig Bryson dinked a little pass over the shoulder of Ryan Porteous to Chris Kane but the striker’s shot soared over. Great opportunity.
In the 16th minute, Middleton – who had been the difference between the sides the last time they met on league duty – took possession on the half way, out-muscled Josh Doig, and danced forward, past the lunging tackle from Paul Hanlon on the edge of the box. But, Alex Gogic traced back and made his presence felt well enough to unsettle the Saints forward as he let his shot rip, allowing the well-positioned Matt Macey to gather.
Boyle’s first real surge down the right flank, running onto a neat little pass into his path by Kevin Nisbet, ended with a delivery into Christian Doidge but Jason Kerr did enough to see it over the bar.
In the 27th minute a free-kick into Doidge was cleared to Newell and he forced a wee angled pass through to Irvine but his effort was blocked by Clark’s left boot.
David Wotherspoon was becoming a problem at the other end and when Hibs couldn’t clear out on the flank, with Boyle and McGinn beaten, the Canadian international delayed his cross long enough to take the leaping Gogic out of the equation and then delivered a beautiful ball to the ball post where Rooney out jumped the Hibs centre-halves and back across the body of Macey to open the scoring.
In doing so, he became the first non-Old Firm this century to score in both the League and Scottish Cup finals in the same season.
Always likely to be a key player, having scored in the semi of the League Cup against Hibs and then netting the winner to give the Perth side their first earlier silverware, he made sure it would be Hibs left contemplating the impossible dream.
A side who have struggled to get the better of Davidson’ men they huffed and puffed but there was no real response. Not one that worried their rivals, anyway.
Before half-time, Newell raced forward and when aslight opened in front of him he fired narrowly over.
And they tried to start the second half brightly with a Nisbet angled shot bit nothing they could conjure up was good enough.
There was a key moment when Hibs appealed for a penalty after Gogic’s diving header came off a Saints defender but with the officials ignoring those calls, St Johnstone broke upfeld and Rooney had a low shot that was pulled just wide of the far post.
Throwing Jamie Murphy on as a way of mixing things up, Hibs kept at it but they just couldn’t find the form that has taken them so far up the league. And when they did get through Zander Clark was there to clear the decks.
Murphy had a dig in the 62nd minute but, given how Hibs have knocked at the door with very little reward this season it would take more than that to find the Saints net.
Middleton blasted an effort at goal but Macey blocked and then McGinn reacted quicker than Kane to clear.
But Kane got the better of them when he burst through in the 75th minute, forcing McGinn to concede a penalty. Macey save Middleton’s spot kick, though and followed that up by blocking Kane’s follow up with his feet.
It was a key moment that could have sparked hope for Hibs, but this Saints team are very good at extinguishing that and ended the game as very deserving history-makers.