So, here we are. 191 days since Hibs broke the biggest jinx in Scottish football history, Scottish Cup interest returns for the big two in Edinburgh football as the draw is made for the fourth round of the competition this evening.
Hibs go into the draw – to be made at 6.35 tonight – in the highly unusual position of holders. The odds on Neil Lennon’s men doing the unthinkable again are 33/1. The bookies aren’t taking any chances, installing the Hibees as joint-sixth favourites despite their Championship status. Hearts, on the other hand, go in as fourth favourites at 14/1, and for perhaps the first time in a generation, the onus is probably more on them than Hibs to do something tangible in this competition.
With the monkey finally off their back, ending 114 years of hurt and mockery, Hibs will go into this cup campaign in relaxed mood. Of course they’ll want to win it, and Neil Lennon’s men, draw dependent, will put up a good fist of defending their silverware, but the Easter Road outfit need promotion more than a second Scottish Cup title. Dining at the top table of Scottish football and playing Aberdeen rather than Ayr is highest on the agenda. Last year’s runs to the League and Scottish Cup finals ultimately derailed their promotion bandwagon. There really can’t be failure on that front this time around.
Hearts’ relationship with this trophy has been pretty wretched since they dismantled Hibs 5-1 in the final back in 2012. There are mitigating circumstances for their dismal record in the past four years, most notably a succession of cruel draws. The season after they last won the trophy, they were handed a trip to Easter Road to play an improved Hibs team hell-bent on revenge for their Hampden humiliation. A 1-0 defeat ensued. The following campaign, they were paired with Celtic and lost 7-0 with a team full of kids as administration lashed the club, and, as luck would have it, they got the same team again in 2014/15, this time losing 4-0.
Last season, the draw didn’t get any easier. This time, at least, Robbie Neilson’s men made it past the first hurdle, defeating Aberdeen 1-0 at a packed Tynecastle. The fifth-round draw pitted them with Hibs again, this time at Tynecastle, and despite a division separating the two teams, Hearts squandered a 2-0 lead at home in the last ten minutes, drawing 2-2 and then losing the replay 1-0 across the city. The rest is history.
It would therefore be fair to suggest that Hearts need to right some wrongs in the Scottish Cup. Neilson, who until Saturday’s 3-0 win over Motherwell was being put under immense scrutiny and pressure from the Jambo faithful, doesn’t have a good cup record since taking the reins at Tynecastle in 2014. The furthest he’s got in any competition is the quarter-finals and for a club of Hearts’ stature, that’s not really enough, even in lieu of some tricky ties.
They’ll certainly want an easier ride than the past two campaigns. A home draw is always what managers want, but if Hearts can get anybody bar Celtic on their own patch, they’ll fancy it. They are due a smaller team, however. Perhaps Elgin City at home, or a nice day out away at the winners of Queen’s Park and Montrose. Or even a non-league team in Gorgie. After all, the last time they got one of them in their first match (Auchinleck Talbot), their name was etched on the trophy a few months later.
As for Hibs, it would be a shade embarrassing if they relinquished their grip on the trophy at the first hurdle, especially if it were to be a team ranked beneath them. It would be good, from a neutral perspective, to see the current Hibs crop up against Premiership opposition, especially considering their record against such foes last season, defeating Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United (twice), St Johnstone and Inverness in knock-out games. A cup run, but bowing out at the latter stages, would be a respectable outcome, because surely, surely, lightning can’t strike twice, in both cup and promotion terms. Achieving the latter this time around has to be the priority.
Tonight’s draw also includes three other teams from the Lothians. Super League champions Bonnyrigg did so well to draw with Dumbarton and probably should have won the tie on the balance of play. The replay is a week tomorrow. One can’t help but feel their chance has come and gone, but perhaps being pitted against a big fish would spur the Junior side on even further. Edinburgh City travel to East Fife tomorrow to play their postponed tie and having faced Premiership and Championship opposition already this season in the Betfred Cup, they’d no doubt be happy with a plum draw. Spartans, the last of the trio, have it tough tomorrow away at St Mirren, who although marooned at the bottom of the Championship are still several levels above Dougie Samuel’s men. Spartans have a knack of doing well in this competition, but a win in Paisley would be their biggest achievement. A fitting reward for that, if it happened, would surely be one of the Old Firm or Hibs and Hearts.
I’ll leave you, finally, with the prospect of an Edinburgh derby. Remarkably, Hibs and Hearts have met four times (including replays) in this competition since the beginning of 2012. Fate tends to pull them together, even when they are apart on league terms. The Scottish Cup has been so wacky and crazy in recent years for football in this city that you wouldn’t bet against another renewal come close of play tonight.