St Johnstone have Hibs' number as Easter Road club's season ends with a whimper
No one could blame Hibs for being sick of the sight of St Johnstone by now and possibly even Hampden, after a fourth trip to the national stadium inside seven months ended in heartbreak – like two of the previous three.
It was the third game between these two teams inside three months, and it was the third 1-0 win for the Saints. Call it a bogey team or call it simply having Hibs’ number, but the McDiarmid Park side seem to do something to Hibs whenever they face them – at home, away, or at the national stadium.
It could all have been so different. When the ball fell to Jackson Irvine just before the half-hour mark, his effort was saved by the legs of Zander Clark.
Moments later Christian Doidge had a shot blocked. Jack Ross turned away, frustration etched on his face as if he knew what was coming.
St Johnstone worked their way up the park and David Wotherspoon tied Alex Gogic in knots on the left before flighting the ball over for Rooney to head home what turned out to be the winner. As cup finals go it was far from a classic. Hibs were flat and almost timid at times while Callum Davidson's side were well-drilled, well-organised, and unrelenting at the back – as they have been for most of this season.
With as many as four St Johnstone players at times marshalling Martin Boyle, who had been identified as the key threat, there surely had to be space over in other areas of the pitch for Hibs to exploit – but it didn't seem like it.
For all the plaudits afforded to Hibs’ dynamic trio of Boyle, Doidge, and Kevin Nisbet, they were unable to add to their impressive collective tally of goals this season.
Doidge, who netted in every round prior to the final, cut a frustrated figure and only really had one or two half-chances of note. Nisbet appeared fleetingly early in the second half to flash a shot across the face of goal and out for a goal-kick. Boyle’s most notable action in the penalty box was a yellow card for simulation in the dying moments.
But it wasn’t just the attacking element that deserted Hibs at Hampden. The midfield seemed pedestrian at times and the often aimless sideways passing between the defenders suited St Johnstone down to the ground: soak up the pressure, hit Hibs on the counter, and keep it tight at the back.
When referee Nick Walsh pointed to the spot after Paul McGinn bundled over Chris Kane, Matt Macey kept the final alive by saving Glenn Middleton’s penalty and blocking Chris Kane’s effort from the rebound.
Ordinarily those sorts of heroics would spark a team into life and spur them into action but Hibs failed to really test Clark and Macey’s height might have been more use in attack for all the hopeful high balls pumped into the St Johnstone box.
A season like no other has come to an end for a Hibs team that finished third for the first time in 16 years and played some scintillating football at times – but what a great pity that it ended with a whimper rather than the bang it probably deserved.