So many positives: How Hibs maintained sensational cup record with emphatic win at Stranraer
In fact, for the 12th time in 14 consecutive domestic cup competitions, Hibs are involved in the last eight. More often that not, they advance to the semis. This club is making a good habit of being at the business end of these tournaments.
European football, via this competition or the Premiership, is almost done. A point against Livingston on Wednesday will wrap up at least a Conference League berth in the league, but the Europa League isn’t out of the equation either. Claiming the Scottish Cup would bring a play-off round reward as well as silverware.
Winners five years ago with that 3-2 triumph over Rangers, their progress in this year’s edition was sealed by an emphatic 4-0 win over League Two outfit Stranraer at Stair Park. The margin of victory ought to have been greater considering the number of chances they created against a fatigued part-time team, but that matters little. Hibs will host Motherwell next weekend for another shot at Hampden.
Hibs’ forward line was far too strong for Stranraer, who will now focus on making the promotion play-offs in their own division. Lined up in a 4-4-2, strikers Kevin Nisbet and Christian Doidge were a constant handful for the hosts’ backline, but the star man was Martin Boyle. Posted wide right, he destroyed Stranraer with his pace, movement and deliveries.
Boyle scored twice – one a penalty – while Doidge and Nisbet were also on the mark. Each of the aforementioned players have now taken their goal tally into double figures, with Nisbet leading the way on 16. There will be more to come.
Hibs put out a strong team to avoid any prospect of an upset. Matt Macey was given the nod ahead of Ofir Marciano in goal and he played well, while Kyle Magennis was selected in the starting XI for the first time since December 23 and was one of Hibs’ better midfielders until he understandably tired in the second half.
Manager Jack Ross left out Alex Gogic, clearly wanting more ball-players in the middle. Joe Newell and Jackson Irvine provided that, while Josh Doig was told to bomb forward at will from left-back.
How it all unfolded
The first indication of Doig’s overlapping tactics came as early as the fourth minute. Magennis found the teenager down the left-flank and his fizzed cross just evaded Kevin Nisbet for a tap-in.
While Stranraer were competing well in the centre of the pitch, Hibs were finding a lot of joy out wide. Magennis was the next to bomb down the wing, but some poor control let himself down in a promising position.
Boyle was the main threat, skipping past Sean Burns with ease. His cross was perfect, right into Nisbet’s stride, the Scotland striker sclaffed his effort wide.
The Australian, though, was the next to waste a presentable chance. His fellow Socceroo Irvine slipped him in with a cute pass but rather than drive in on goal, Boyle misread the situation and turned into trouble, with his shot blocked by Stranraer defender Scott Robertson.
Hibs were now turning the screw. On 37 minutes, Boyle cushioned the ball into’s Paul McGinn’s path. The full-back’s shot was vicious, forcing Greg Fleming to shovel the ball over the bar. Boyle swung the subsequent corner in and, after Ryan Porteous challenged for it, the ball landed in Doidge’s path and the Welshman swivelled and powered a shot into the net. Hibs had their well-deserved opener.
The visitors clearly wanted a second before the break. Newell swung in a delicious free-kick that Porteous met with a well-directed header, only for Kelly to plunge to his right and parry it away. Then Nisbet spun away from Ayrton Sonkur and hit a dipping effort that narrowly missed the target. Stranraer were fortunate not to be more than a goal behind.
The second half continued in the same vein. Boyle raced clear of the floundering Stranraer defence on 49 minutes and clipped the ball into Doidge, whose header across goal was just too high.
Stranraer were on the ropes. Another goal would floor them. Magennis steamed in to meet McGinn’s cutback two minutes later, but Kelly kicked his goalbound effort away.
The hosts earned a brief moment respite when Andy Stirling broke free, but McGinn hauled him down and was booked. From the free-kick, Jamie Hamill’s drilled effort struck the Hibs wall and looped a fraction wide of goal with Macey struggling to cover it.
It was a warning to Hibs, who had to rely on their former player, Daryl Duffy, to block a Thomas Orr shot that was destined for the net. Stranraer suddenly had their tails up and were bearing their teeth.
That reinforced the belief that Hibs required a second goal to put this tie to bed and it came on 64 minutes. Nisbet’s free-kick from range would have been dealt with by Kelly had it not struck the Stranraer wall, changed direction and trajectory and looped into the net. It was the killer blow.
Hibs did not let up though, and bagged a third on 71 minutes. All three forwards were involved. Doidge’s cross was headed onto the post by Nisbet, but Boyle was on hand to thrash the loose ball past Kelly.
It was now a question of how many for Hibs. They made it 4-0 on 84 minutes when, after Doidge’s downward header bounced off the bar, Porteous was felled by Robertson in the box and Boyle slammed the penalty home.
With so much at stake in the league and the cup, the next few weeks could be so very rewarding for Ross and his players.
Stranraer: Fleming, Robertson, Burns, Sonkur, McManus, Hilton, Gallagher (Hamill 51), Stirling, Millar, Orr (Yates 68), Duffy (Paton 69).
Hibs: Macey, McGinn, Porteous, Hanlon, Doig (Stevenson 72), Newell (Hallberg 74), Irvine, Magennis (Wright 68), Boyle, Doidge, Nisbet.