Vykintas Slivka left Ibrox delighted to have scored his first goal for Hibs but convinced he should have been celebrating a glory double in the 3-2 win over Rangers.
The rangy midfielder marked his first start in green and white with what proved to be the winning goal, a stunning strike from 25 yards which left Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham helpless.
But the 22-year-old insisted he shouldn’t have been left waiting until the 65th minute for his moment to remember, adamant a first-half effort didn’t need the intervention of James Tavernier to leave Foderingham desperately trying to claw it out of his net.
“I thought it was going in before it hit the defender,” he said. “So, he’s taken it from me although, obviously, I was happy to see it end up in the net even if it went down as an own goal.”
Hibs’ scoring sensation Simon Murray had already cancelled out a second-minute opener from Alfredo Morelos with his tenth goal of the season and by that point the home side had been reduced to ten men, referee John Beaton showing Ryan Jack a straight red card for allegedly butting Anthony Stokes. It was one of a number of flashpoints during an ill-tempered clash and one sparked by Slivka’s challenge on Graham Dorrans.
Slivka admitted: “It was a foul, but nothing more than that. I was a little bit surprised at what developed after it but I suppose emotions were running high. As for the red card itself, that’s a decision only for the referee to make.”
Hibs made the most of their numerical advantage, bossing the game for much of the second half with Slivka’s goal appearing to put them out of reach.
But a Tavernier header ten minutes from time put a different complexion on proceedings although Slivka believed he and his team-mates were never in danger of letting the points slip from their grasp.
He said: “I don’t think we became nervous. We knew what we had to do, we were totally in control and used our experience to see the game out.”
Slivka insisted he hadn’t been fazed by the febrile atmosphere inside Ibrox, pointing out that he’s been capped 19 times by his country, including facing England at Wembley in the current round of World Cup qualifying matches.
“I had been told what to expect by the rest of the boys,” he revealed, “But I think you have to experience it for yourself. It was hostile, the Rangers fans were very noisy, very vocal but you just have to concentrate on playing football.
“Perhaps you hear it in those first few minutes but you try to forget about the crowd. It’s difficult, but you get used to it and it just becomes background noise.”
Slivka admitted, however, that in a torrid opening 15 minutes, Neil Lennon’s players could have found themselves finished as former Hibs striker Kenny Miller saw one effort drift inches wide and another come back off the post.
He said: “When they scored so early you kind of think this could be a day to forget. But you have to be strong, to keep going. Rangers started very well but it is not possible to keep playing at that pace.
“It was a case of making sure we didn’t lose another goal. We have a saying in Lithuania that you have to ‘climb over yourself’, to keep going even when it is painful and I think the character of the team was important at that point.
“We got ourselves into the game and then Simon scored that fantastic goal. The way things are at the moment with him you almost expect him to score in every game. And, after that, I thought we played very well.”
As you would expect, the away dressing-room at Ibrox was buzzing afterwards but, insisted Slivka, feet were very quickly back on the ground, the game being only the second in a 38-match Premiership season.
He said: “We had gone to Glasgow believing we could win so we were very happy. You have to celebrate the moment and enjoy it but the championship is a long run.
“We have a game against Hamilton this Saturday now and it becomes the most important one and the three points it carries are just as important as those we won at Ibrox.
“The training ground at East Mains was a very happy place yesterday but the big enjoyment is knowing we made our supporters happy.”
And Slivka learned very quickly at first hand just how much it meant to the HIbs fans.
He said: “I’ve had a few fans recognise me in the street as I’ve walked around the city enjoying the Festival and they’ve stopped me and asked for a selfie and an autograph.
“But since Saturday I’ve had a few come up to congratulate me on my goal and to tell me how happy they were with the win against Rangers.
“Like them I was delighted. It was nice to score the winner, but I was happier with the three points for my team-mates.”