Hibs 21st century XI - The two strikers revealed
Hibs fans have seen a plethora of strikers in the green and white since the turn of the Millennium, some more memorable than others.
The likes of Abdessalam Benjelloun, Jason Cummings, Steven Fletcher, and Anthony Stokes have all won silverware, while Mixu Paatelainen netted THAT hat-trick against Hearts and Paco Luna came within inches of European heroics against AEK Athens in the UEFA Cup in 2001.
In the end, however, the Easter Road faithful opted for a partnership that teamed up in reality, during the Pat Fenlon era - Leigh Griffiths and Garry O’Connor. Griffiths received 60 per cent of the vote, with Scottish Cup final catalyst Stokes receiving just 19 per cent. Paatelainen (10 per cent), Fletcher (six per cent) and David Zitelli (five per cent) indicate how highly Hibs fans regard Griffiths.
A former youth player at Easter Road, Sparky returned on loan in August 2011, finishing the season with 11 goals in 36 appearances and three suspensions for gesturing to fans. Nevertheless, Griffiths’ goals, along with O’Connor’s input, had effectively saved the club from relegation, although neither were able to impact the 2012 Scottish Cup final.
The following season, Griffiths sealed a return, linking up well with Irishman Eoin Doyle and hitting 28 goals in 42 appearances. He picked up two monthly awards as well as the SPFA Young Player of the Year, SFWA Footballer of the Year and the SPL Player of the Year prizes. Hibs reached the Scottish Cup final for the second consecutive year, going down 3-0 to Celtic,
Among Griffiths’ most memorable displays in his second spell at Easter Road were the cup matches against Kilmarnock, in which he netted a hat-trick, and the semi-final win over Falkirk, in which the loan star sparked an unlikely comeback with Hibs trailing their lower-league opposition 3-0 at half-time.
Griffiths’ ability to hit the net from anywhere won him a place in Hibs fans’ hearts. That he contributed to a rare win over Hearts at Tynecastle strengthened the bond between the supporters and one of their own.
Sparky may not have won anything with Hibs, but many fans haven’t given up hope of him featuring for the club again. The list of strikers to have won silverware with Hibs - Benjelloun, Cummings, Fletcher, Holt, Keatings, Stokes - is impressive. That Griffiths trumped all of them speaks volumes.
O’Connor falls into a similar category.
Although not quite as unanimous as Griffiths, the former Salvesen Boys Club striker earned 53 per cent of the vote, ahead of Cummings on 20 per cent, Benji on 13 per cent and Luna and Colin Nish, both with seven per cent.
His 75 goals in 209 games for Hibs over two spells helped Hibs to UEFA Cup qualification, a Scottish Cup final and avoid relegation in 2012.
His off-field issues have been well-documented, but fans remember his skill on the field, his winner against Hearts in 2003, his role in a Tynecastle victory in 2005.
Arguably his most successful spells as an player came at Easter Road, between 2000-2006 and 2011-2012. A life-changing move to Lokomotiv Moscow culminated in O’Connor scoring the winner in the Russian Cup final against city rivals FC Moscow, but he failed to settle and returned to the UK, although spells with Birmingham and Barnsley again failed to see the striker reproduce his Easter Road form.
Something seemed to click during his second stint with Hibs, as he hit ten goals in his first 11 matches, and although the season ended with a Scottish Cup final loss to Hearts, O’Connor’s goals helped Hibs avoid relegation from the SPL.
O’Connor’s son is currently on Hibs’ books, so the prospect of a powerful blonde Hibs striker named O’Connor terrorising opposition defences could return again, but for now, the Easter Road faithful will be content to fondly remember the elder O’Connor’s contributions in green and white.
THE REST OF THE TEAM
• Hibs 21st century XI - The best goalkeeper revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The best right-back revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The first centre-back revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The second centre-back revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The best left-back revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The right-sided midfielder revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The central midfielders revealed• Hibs 21st century XI - The left-midfielder revealed