Ian Murray: Final will be a lot closer than people think
The bookies may have Rangers as odds-on favourites, but Ian Murray believes Hibs have the best chance he can remember to lift the Scottish Cup.
The former Easter Road captain can understand why, given Hibs’ 114 years without the trophy, everyone outwith Edinburgh is writing off Alan Stubbs’ players.
However, he reckons that just one look at this season’s encounters between the clubs – two victories apiece at home in the Championship – suggest today’s Hampden showdown will be a lot closer than many people think, so tight he insists it’s too hard to call.
And, similarly, he revealed he can’t decide whether finally ending that agonising wait will totally vanquish the pain of being condemned to a third season in the second tier of Scottish football.
But one thing Murray feels is certain, the game will produce plenty of goals given the 15 their four league clashes threw up.
Murray, who played almost 300 games for Hibs in two spells as well as spending a couple of years with Rangers, said: “I really do not like sitting on the fence but, at the moment, I find it very difficult to pick a winner.
“I think the final will be a lot closer than people think. Hibs have beaten Rangers a couple of times this season and they’ve also been beaten by them twice. But I do feel there could be plenty of goals. I hope there will be.
“I wouldn’t disagree with those who say this could be Hibs’ best chance to win the cup. I’d say it’s the best I can remember in my lifetime. Hibs not winning the cup has been done to death and outside one half of Edinburgh they won’t be expected to do so again because of what’s happened down through the years.
“But perhaps that takes the pressure off them a little bit. They’ve had a couple of recent disappointments in the final although few of today’s players were involved in them, but it is a fact that the more often you get there the more chance you have of winning it.”
While there are Hibs fans who’d have put promotion ahead of winning the cup, Murray can also see merit in the argument that lifting the trophy for the first time since 1902 would top everything, rating Saturday’s match as not the chance of a lifetime, but the chance of two lifetimes given the generations who have supported the club and not enjoyed a Princes Street parade with this particular piece of silverware.
The 35-year-old former Dumbarton and St Mirren manager said: “I can understand both sides. The younger guys probably want to be in the top flight and that’s perfectly correct, Hibs should be in the Premiership and certainly didn’t expect three years in the Championship.
“But I think if you ask the older guys, people who have been around a lot longer hoping to see the club win the Scottish Cup then they’d be happy with that because Hibs will be back in the Premiership. It’s gone for this season, but they will be promoted.”
Murray only appeared in one Scottish Cup final in a playing career which also took him to Norwich City, Hibs losing 3-0 to Celtic in 2001 when it was “only 99 years” since Bobby Atherton had been the last Easter Road skipper to hold the trophy aloft.
He said: “Surprisingly, I can remember a lot about the whole cup run that season. We had a couple of close-run things, narrowly beating Stirling Albion away after they’d taken an early lead and then Tam McManus hitting a 93rd-minute winner against Kilmarnock in a really tough game at Rugby Park.
“The semi-final against Livingston at Hampden was as straight forward as you could get. John O’Neil scored in just the second minute and we ran out 3-0 winners.
“The whole build-up to the final against Celtic was just brilliant. We stayed at Loch Lomond as we had for the semi, we’d trained on the pitch beforehand which was a bit unusual and the day itself was gloriously sunny. It was the sort of thing I’d watched growing up and dreaming of playing in.
“But it was an exceptionally good Celtic team. We were a good side, but I reckon Celtic were as strong a team as they’d had in the past ten or 15 years with players like Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton, Lubo Moravcik, Paul Lambert, Neil Lennon and so on.
“I hope the importance of the match doesn’t get to the Hibs players too much.
“They need to go out and play as they do normally and we know when they play as they are capable of doing then they are a match for most sides as we’ve seen already this season with the number of wins they’ve had against Premiership opposition.”
While Hibs go into the game still trying to clear their heads of the disappointment of missing out on promotion, Rangers have had three weeks since their last match, their only taste of action being a closed doors friendly against a Tottenham Hotspur XI.
Murray believes not having a play-off match only a few days before the final and another just afterwards could work in Hibs’ favour.
He said: “It’s given Alan Stubbs the chance to prepare the way he’d want without any distractions. He’d be able to give them a few days rest after such a hectic schedule of matches, to tailor training specifically for this game. Now it’s the last game of the season, the players need to put everything they have into it. To be honest, I’d rather be in Hibs’ position personally.
“No matter what Rangers might have done in the last few weeks you can’t replicate competitive football on the raining ground. Hibs have had a tough run of games, playing two a week for a good while but now they’ve had a week to recharge the batteries.
“It would be very disappointing to think of Hibs ending the season picking up nothing considering the season they’ve had. Hopefully the players can grasp this opportunity and write themselves into the club’s history books.”