There was a time when the prospect of a trip to Tynecastle would fill even the most ardent of Hibs fans with a fair degree of trepidation.
Another trip to Gorgie is on the cards if their Capital rivals Hearts can overcome Raith Rovers in tomorrow night’s William Hill Scottish Cup replay, the draw for the fifth round raising the possibility of another unexpected Edinburgh derby. But should Ian Cathro’s side shake off the disappointment of being held to a 1-1 draw by the Kirkcaldy club, a journey across the city next month will be one the Hibs support will make with eager anticipation.
Yes, they are still languishing in the second tier of Scottish football, but Tynecastle has almost become a home from home for Hibs, the scene of a series of recent and memorable matches.
The way they battled back from two goals down with only ten minutes to play to snatch a draw in last season’s fifth-round tie and then winning the replay at Easter Road has become part of the club’s folklore, a second step taken on the road to Hampden and that unforgettable day in May as they finally shattered their Scottish Cup hoodoo of 114 years.
That 2-2 draw took place only eight days after Hibs had beaten St Johnstone 2-1 in the semi-final of the League Cup at the same ground, the Saints just one of five Premiership teams humbled by the men in green and white during the course of last season.
By a strange quirk of fate, Hibs began their defence of that trophy back at Tynecastle, Neil Lennon’s side negotiating a potentially tricky encounter with East Super League champions Bonnyrigg Rose in style, romping to an 8-1 mauling of the Junior club.
In fact, you have to go back the beginning of the season before last to trace a Hibs defeat at Tynecastle, a statistic which, not surprisingly, leaves striker James Keatings unworried at the possibility of yet another sortie into “enemy” territory.
Admitting he would have preferred the game to be played at Easter Road, he said: “Whoever we’d got it’s up to us; whoever stands in our way we want to go as far as we can.
“Tynecastle has been a good place for us and hopefully that can continue. At the weekend, there was a good turn-out from both sets of fans, a great crowd and atmosphere which is what you want when you’re playing.”
Keatings and his team-mates can afford to put their feet up tomorrow night as Hearts and Raith do battle again having effectively ended any threat of a giant-killing act by Bonnyrigg within 24 minutes.
Andrew Shinnie, Keatings and Chris Humphrey had all beaten goalkeeper Michael Andrews by that point with the former Hamilton and Hearts hitman, who had celebrated his 25th birthday the day before, scoring the best of those three strikes, a superb shot from 22 yards which sailed over the Rose goalkeeper and high into his net. A highly-dubious penalty gave Dean Hoskins the chance to pull one back to give the 5000 Bonnyrigg fans in the 13,000 crowd a moment to savour but goals after the break from Jason Cummings (two), Lewis Stevenson, Keatings and Jordon Forster completed the rout.
It was Keatings’ first start in almost three months, a medial ligament injury sustained during the 3-1 defeat of Dunfermline at East End Park on October 22 having put him out of action, with the strength in depth of Lennon’s squad then making it difficult for him – and others – to force their way into the side.
The options open to the Hibs boss were there for all to see, six changes made from the team which enjoyed a narrow 1-0 win over Dumbarton seven days earlier but one which still saw the likes of Fraser Fyvie, Martin Boyle, Marvin Bartley and Brian Graham on the bench while suspended skipper David Gray and the injured Paul Hanlon both looked on from a front row seat in the largely deserted and soon-to-be demolished main stand.
But Keatings, having been handed that opportunity, wasn’t going to pass it up.
He said: “It was one of those games that can be tricky. All the pressure was on us as it was their cup final.
“However, it was simple for myself. I had not played for a few weeks so I was really up for it. There were a couple of us in the same position but you just needed to look at our bench to see the squad is very strong.
“It must give the manager a headache because he has so many choices to make in naming his starting XI.”
Alert to the potential banana skin which awaited them and knowing there would be few platitudes even in victory, Keatings revealed Lennon’s players were determined to leave nothing to chance.
He said: “It was up to us to go out and put in a professional performance. We started well, got the tempo up right away and moved the ball quickly rather than let them try to sit in and frustrate us.”
Lennon’s only complaint about his players’ performance was that they had got “a bit sloppy” towards the end of the first half but, disclosed Keatings, that was something which was already in hand before the manager entered the dressing-room during the interval.
He said: “We were already talking about that in the dressing-room among ourselves.
“We went back out, managed to keep the ball well, to cut them open and take our chances.”
Even as the goals rained in, Hibs, with cup-winning boss Alan Stubbs and his first-team coach John Doolan in attendance, didn’t take their foot off the pedal, showing Robbie Horn’s part-time players little mercy as they rounded off the most convincing of displays.
Keatings said: “It’s never easy to score eight in a game but we were determined to keep going and see how many we could get. They had put so much into the first half they began to run out of steam so we just remained professional and kept pressing on.”
In the build-up to the match, Hibs legend Pat Stanton had recalled some of the challenges which, to this day, still made him wince during his season farmed out to Bonnyrigg.
But, other than a “welcome to the Juniors” type tackle from Hoskins on Humphrey which earned him a booking and resulted in Keating’s free-kick being nodded home for Forster to complete the scoring, the match passed without incident.
Keatings said: “I go to watch some of my mates play in the Juniors and there can be some eye-opening challenges.
“There were only a couple of them, but that happens. They are obviously not used to playing at the pace and with the movement we have. We were just that bit quicker and it does get frustrating when players start going by you.”