Shaun Maloney must battle Hibs cup ghosts of the past - but league campaign just as crucial
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“Even though I was injured, I scored in semi-finals and it’s the squad that goes and wins the cup. Although I didn’t start I still very much felt involved and to see your team mates go up to lift the cup it’s still a really good feeling,” he said ahead of Hibs’ trip to Motherwell in the quarter-finals.
You won’t find Maloney prioritising the cup over the league, though. The Easter Road boss is fully focused on a top-four finish in the Scottish Premiership but he would dearly love to win a trophy so soon after taking the reins. It is very much a two-pronged approach.
He has the hero of that Scottish Cup final on his coaching staff – “David Gray doesn’t speak about it much, even though I ask him about it a lot” – and players in his squad who lifted the trophy that day in Paul Hanlon, Darren McGregor, and Lewis Stevenson.
To have any hope of repeating the heroics of May 2016 Hibs will have to get past city rivals Hearts. The last three encounters between the two teams at Hampden haven’t been happy experiences for the green half of Edinburgh, Hearts holding a 11-2 aggregate scoreline which includes one final win and two semi-final wins – curiously all in the Scottish Cup. Natural order, some might suggest.
This year there is also the small matter of an Edinburgh derby in the days leading up to last-four clash. In fact, from this Saturday onwards it could be argued that the Capital club faces three cup finals, or at least semi-finals, before they even get to Mount Florida.
Given the squad at their disposal and the new faces brought in during the January transfer window, some may feel that of the seven(!) clubs battling it out for fourth, Hibs have the best chance. But they face Aberdeen away, Dundee United at home, and Hearts at Tynecastle.
Their record at Pittodrie isn’t brilliant; United have already picked up three points in Leith this term, and the derby is a law unto itself.
The best case scenario for Maloney is that Hibs finish fourth and at least reach the final. Anything less could be viewed as failure, although winning the cup would potentially make up for finishing lower than fourth.
It’s not just the winning, either. It’s the fact that Hibs need a big performance (or two) against Hearts after a few underwhelming results in recent seasons.
But they will come up against two beaten finalists from that 2016 Rangers team in Andy Halliday and Barrie McKay who will both be eager to inflict a bit more Hampden hurt on Hibs.
Hibs are doing things differently off the pitch with a view to creating and ensuring regular success but over the next four weeks there needs to be change on the pitch as well. Players returning from injury can give Maloney a boost – but only if they can help fire Hibs to fourth and, at the very least, the cup final.