Sam Stanton today insisted the time for dreaming of Scottish Cup glory will only come if Hibs can defeat Falkirk in next month’s semi-final.
A comfortable 4-0 victory over Berwick Rangers, allied to the last-four draw which paired them with their fellow Championship rivals rather than Premiership opposition, raised hopes that the Easter Road outfit could end 113 years of hurt and lift the trophy for the first time since 1902 come May 30.
While admitting every player always has the thought of lifting the trophy at the back of their minds when the competition gets under way, the midfielder is adamant no-one should be looking beyond the Bairns, a rematch of the epic 2013 semi-final in which Hibs, having trailed 3-0 at half-time came back to win 4-3 after extra-time.
Both sides are currently on impressive runs, Hibs defeated just once over 90 minutes in their last 25 matches, while Falkirk have had just one setback in their last 16 fixtures.
Then there’s the fact that Hibs have yet to beat Falkirk this season, with the Bairns winning 1-0 at Easter Road in August and by the same scoreline in December at the Falkirk Stadium, while Peter Houston’s men also came back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 in Edinburgh just two months ago.
However, as Stanton insisted, he and his team-mates now have to focus on the Championship games which take place in the intervening period, starting with tomorrow’s visit from basement outfit Livingston as Hibs bid to hold onto second place in the table, a position which would cut the number of play-off matches required to secure promotion.
Nevertheless, the 20-year-old conceded the thought of playing at the national stadium was “exciting,” as he said: “I’ve never played there before so it’s going to be a new experience for me. I think every player has it at the back of his mind at the start of the Scottish Cup that you might win it but you can’t think about the final until you win the semi-final.
“We moved another step closer with our win against Berwick but winning the cup remains just as far away in a sense.”
Given their record against Hibs this season, Falkirk can rightly believe they can end up on top again, although Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs is firmly of the persuasion that each of the three games so far could just as easily have fallen in favour of his side.
But as far as Stanton is concerned, that counts for little. He said: “The semi-final is a one-off game no matter who you are playing. Every team in the semi deserves to be there so, to be honest, we weren’t really bothered who we got given the confidence in our dressing-room, we’d have taken anyone. To win the cup you have to beat the best sides and we’ll have to do that in the final if we get there.”
Although first-half goals from Jason Cummings and Lewis Stevenson had all but secured victory over Colin Cameron’s part-timers, it wasn’t until Stanton, who had replaced Scott Allan two minutes earlier, steered home a third that the home fans could relax and were then able to breathe even easier as Liam Fontaine powered home a header for the fourth.
Stanton, though recognised the importance of his strike, knocking the ball home after Berwick goalkeeper Billy Bald could only palm a Dominique Malonga effort into his path.
He said: “It’s great to get a goal at any time, but it was an important time to score as it killed the game off. I’d had a chance only a minute or so earlier when the goalkeeper pushed away another shot from Dominique, but one of their defenders managed to head it away before I could reach it.
“At 2-0 Berwick had nothing to lose and could afford to throw everything at it and had they managed to sneak one I’d imagine it would all of become a bit nerve-wracking. So to get another chance – and to take it – so quickly after the first one was perfect for us.”
It was Stanton’s third goal of the season on what was something of a rare outing for him, his last start having come against Falkirk in early December and that, in itself, was his first start since Queen of the South away towards the end of September.
He said: “Competition for a place in our midfield was already very stiff and then Fraser Fyvie arrived in the January transfer window. You’ve got quality players who are doing really well so it’s tough to get into the team. It’s been a bit frustrating for me this season, I’ve not played as much as I would have liked but that’s down to how well the team is doing at the minute.”
A further frustration was being laid low by mumps, which saw him ordered to stay away from the club’s East Mains training centre. Stanton revealed he’s still mystified as to how he caught the illness, saying: “I’d had all the jags so it was something of a surprise.
“I’d been on the bench for our 2-0 win against Rangers at Ibrox the other Friday night but on the Saturday I was starting to feel not very well. I thought I’d a touch of flu but by the Sunday my face had swollen up and I was feeling really quite ill.
“I was a bit stunned when the doctor said it was mumps. I didn’t really know anything about the illness. It didn’t quite get to the stage of having a hankie tied under my chin thankfully, but it wasn’t at all pleasant. I was told to stay away from the club as it can be contagious. I spent a whole week in bed but I’m totally recovered and it was great not only to be involved against Berwick but to get a goal.”