The Scottish Cup continues to provide succour and solace for Hibs regardless of their league travails. On a bitterly cold afternoon in Inverness, Nick Montgomery’s team never really looked like suffering a shock.
A deflected Myziane Maolida strike early in the second half put Monty’s men in control of the tie, before Martin Boyle got his first goal since returning from the Asian Cup, the Socceroos star capitalising on a horrendous defensive howler to kill the game with 12 minutes remaining. Boyle then set up substitute Elie Youan for third in the closing stages, rendering Aaron Doran’s goal with the final kick of the ball a meaningless act of defiance by the Highlanders.
On a day when Chris Cadden made his long-awaited return from injury in the dying moments, Hibs could feel satisfied to have claimed their place in next month’s quarterfinals. Whether or not this win sparks an upturn in their Scottish Premiership form, they’ve got that to look forward to.
With five of their seven January signings in the starting XI, Hibs were expected to dominate against opponents nearer to the bottom than the top of Scotland’s second tier. They certainly didn’t lack in possession or territory from the very outset, with Caley Thistle intent to sit off the visitors and look to hit on the break.
In terms of clear-cut chances, Eliezer Mayenda crated one for himself with 18 minutes on the clock, using the overlapping run of Jordan Obita as a deco, dropping his shoulder and driving into the box from his starting position on the left. The teenager hit the target with his right-footed shot, too, but found Mark Ridgers well positioned, the Inverness goalie slapping the ball away from goal.
Martin Boyle’s pace was an obvious threat, one that the home side sought to negate by consistently stepping up and hoping to catch the right winger offside. They didn’t always get the timing absolutely spot on. But, in a first half short of genuine chances, Hibs always looked a little forced, a little hurried, possibly even a little stymied by their lower league opponents.
Changes at the break were no surprise, Dylan Levitt – scorer of that midweek wonder goal against Celtic – and Youan replacing Luke Amos and Mayenda in like-for-like substitutions that allowed Hibs to stick with their starting 4-3-3 shape. The breakthrough didn’t take long to come.
With 53 minutes on the clock, sharp counter-pressing by Hibs saw Nathan Moriah-Welsh gain possession just outside the Inverness box. He fed sub Levitt, who found Maolida in space to run at the home defence. If the deflection on his shot was most definitely on the wild side of wicked, the ball looping up and beyond a helpless Ridgers in the sort of parabola normally only seen on an artillery testing range, the Comoros international gets credit for trying his luck.
Levitt forced Ridgers into a full-length save not long after the opener, the Welsh midfielder once again demonstrating his ability to strike a ball with accuracy. Youan and Boyle weren’t quite so targeted with efforts to find the net but, in terms of raw volume, Hibs were now beginning to generate chances.
Had Cammy Kerr’s back-post header with less than 20 minutes remaining been six inches lower, however, the visitors’ inability to take those chances would have cost them dearly. The former Dundee man’s effort landed on top of the bar, to the relief of all in the away support behind David Marshall’s goal.
The killer second goal came with 78 minutes on the clock, via nothing more threatening than a direct long ball. Boyle couldn’t believe his luck when Morgan Boyes completely fluffed his attempt to control the delivery, allowing the winger to scamper in, go beyond Ridgers and slot the ball home from a tight angle. There was still time for Hibs to add a third, Le Fondre leaving a through ball to Boyle breaking from an onside position, and the winger crossing for Youan to tap in from point-blank range. Doran grabbed some consolation for the hosts with an injury time strike.