Twenty-five thousand had turned up, tens, hundreds and even thousands of pounds spent knowing they couldn’t afford not to be there on the day when the Easter Road club’s 110-year Scottish Cup hoodoo might, just might come to an end.
They’d gathered from every corner of the globe, some effectively making a day trip from far-flung places such as Australia and New Zealand just to be there. Sadly, the 11 who mattered most, those who took to the pitch wearing that old green and white jersey, were posted missing.
And so a dream turned into a nightmare, one which will bring each and every one of those fans out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it, thumped 5-1 in the most one-sided Scottish Cup final since 1996 when Hearts themselves were on the receiving end from Rangers.
Defeat would have been bad enough given it was “them” who would be lifting the trophy as a consequence, but this was a rout, the only saving grace, if there could be such a thing, for Hibs being that their noses weren’t rubbed even deeper in it.
For this was a day when the Jambos could have taken the sweetest of revenges for that 7-0 on New Year’s Day, 1973, although supporters of the Gorgie outfit will probably look on this as more than enough, a comprehensive victory which makes them, if not quite the only team in Edinburgh as claimed by two-goal hero Rudi Skacel, then the Capital’s No. 1 by some way. It also underlined in heavy black ink the massive task facing Hibs boss Fenlon over the summer as he attempts to construct a side capable of competing in the top half of the SPL and, on a more parochial level, able to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with their city neighbours.
Hearts had everything Hibs didn’t; a desire, a commitment, a passion and not least a measure of skill, a damning litany considering Paulo Sergio’s side themselves aren’t exactly one of the best in the country.
Best in Edinburgh will do, though, for the time being at least, Fenlon’s assertion that things were finally beginning to look up down Easter Road way shattered just as surely as those hopes and dreams of the supporters.
To his credit the little Irishman didn’t attempt to shy away from the obvious or to attempt to offer any excuses. His appraisal was blunt and to the point. “I feel sick, physically sick, he said. “I’m desperately disappointed.
“We never showed up from the start of the game. When you send a team out the least you expect is desire and work-rate and we did not have that. Sometimes you have games where you are not good enough but we did not show any real hunger.
“You get to a Cup final, you think players should be busting a gut to play but we did not have that.”
If Hearts had gone into the game as favourites, rightly so by virtue of having won all three derby games in the SPL to stretch their unbeaten run in the fixture to ten, there remained a nagging doubt among a good number of their supporters that if Hibs’ Cup jinx were to end then this could well be the day.
Any worries they may privately have harboured, however, disappeared within minutes, the realisation that Hibs were there for the taking dawning on them early as they pinned Hibs back deep inside their own territory. With Suso Santana hugging one touchline and Andy Driver the other, Sergio’s team stretched their opponents on the huge Hampden pitch, the wingers ably supported by full backs Ryan McGowan and Danny Grainger while in the middle of the park no-one in green managed to lay a glove on Ian Black.
As a result Garry O’Connor and Leigh Griffiths hardly saw the ball, Andy Webster and Marius Zaliukas barely breaking sweat all afternoon as play constantly headed towards the goal of Hibs ’keeper Mark Brown.
Scrappy as their opening goal might have been, the ball pinging about the penalty area as Hibs struggled to clear Grainger’s corner, it was deserved, and as so often happens on these occasions coming from an unlikely source, Darren Barr finding himself onside, thanks to Pa Kujabi’s reluctance to step away from the post he had been protecting, to thump home. There was an element of luck to the second, Skacel’s shot taking a deflection off James McPake and beyond Brown although just why the Czech, so deadly on that left foot, was allowed to turn? And questions, too, would be asked as to how Black was given so much time and space to deliver the telling pass to his team-mate.
McPake took a Santana shot off the line before giving Hibs some hope, sliding in to push Tom Soares’ low cross past Jamie McDonald, but that disappeared in two crazy minutes at the start of the second half. Kujabi, having lost Santana, not for the first time, tugged his shirt. The offence clearly took place outside the box but the little Spaniard threw himself into the penalty area and, to Hibs’ disgust, referee Craig Thomson fell for it, pointing to the spot.
Kujabi, having been booked earlier for a foul on Santana, picked up a second yellow and was off. Again, though, Hibs were less than happy, feeling the Gambian’s first offence was no worse than the Black elbow which had smacked into the face of Griffiths only a few minutes earlier, the Hearts man escaping with only a word of caution from Thomson.
Grainger stepped up to slam home from 12 yards, McGowan threw himself at the ball to head home a fourth after Brown could only push a close-range flick from Stephen Elliott aside and that was that. Given that penalties had featured at some point in each of the previous rounds for Hearts it was probably little surprise there would be another and just as contentious as the winner they got against Celtic in the semi-final.
Fenlon claimed not to have had a clear view of the incident and insisted that in the greater scheme of things it had counted for little, his side well beaten regardless. Griffiths, though wasn’t so reticent, saying: “I felt the penalty was a big turning point because when we got the goal I felt we had a bit momentum. The referee awarded a penalty and it turned the game.
“James McPake asked the TV guys to see a replay and they said it was never in the box. It spoiled the game a bit. To lose the penalty and be a man down made it hard for us.”
Of the observers, former Hibs striker Steven Fletcher lasted just ten more minutes before heading for the exit while ex-skipper Rob Jones departed only seconds before Skacel claimed Hearts’ fifth, a strike in off the post which saw a mass exodus of the green-and-white army.
“We want six” roared the Jambo fans and with 15 minutes remaining, it never transpired, much to Hibs’ relief but they found themselves without Fenlon for the last few seconds, the manager sent to the stand by Thomson after a “Leigh Griffiths-type” gesture as the Hearts supporters taunted him with “There’s only one Pat Fenlon”.
The Dubliner insisted his action was not directed at them but a sign of his frustration, claiming he was unaware of what was being shouted. Nevertheless, he now faces a two-match ban – but that will be the least of his worries as he plans a summer signing spree with a number of his squad out of contract, and those brought in on loan due to return to their parent clubs. “We’ll have to sit down and analyse it. Obviously there have to be changes in the way the club is and the type of players we recruit,” he said. “I think Inverness last week and this show what is wrong with the football club. There’s an acceptance and softness about the place that we need to change.”