Mark is having a nice time in Barcelona to celebrate his recent burpday and asked me to fill in again on “Just Back” a week or so ago. I happily agreed to doing my 9th report of the season, hoping it would be a much hoped for Scottish Cup Quarter Final. Thankfully, due to an excellent outing against our neighours, Les Jongleurs, that came to pass…but the games since then resulted in me feeling less excited than I might have been going into proceedings this afternoon. Driving home from Paisley on Wednesday night, my laddie fell asleep before we’d even passed Glasgow Airport and I was left alone with Neil Lennon’s post match interview and my thoughts. It was a long journey home, made all the more tedious by ugly, odious Orc traffic blocking the highway, already under strain from unrelenting motorway upgrade roadworks. I had a long time to think, I rued the fact that so many key players have been injured, almost continuously, throughout the campaign. Important, talismanic, figures like Hanlon and McGeouch. Crucial star turns like McGinn. It most certainly has hampered our ability to stamp our boot on the throat of our opposition and squeeze down ruthlessly. It most certainly is a product of being in this unforgiving league for a third season – our players booted up and down the park week in, week out, as teams try to thwart our superior wage bill and related ability. I rued the fact that, in the twilight of his career, Grant Holt really can’t be expected to play two games a week in back to back weeks…and can see Lennon prioritising certain games over others, in order to use him sparingly and wisely – only there is nobody else capable of playing the foil to Jason and it had shown all too painfully on Wednesday night. Holty may not score as many as people would have liked but his contribution in letting others play, taking the game long, or simply to the opposition is only too obvious when he is missing. It was a depressing drive home and I was angry with most of the players. Especially the ones who did not even bother to acknowledge the near 1000 strong support at the end of the game on Wednesday night. It was a real indication of which of our players have balls…aye, that’ll be you, Lewis and Darren.
So, on to today with a little more trepidation than would have been comfortable. Trepidation that seemed to, earlier in the week, have transferred itself onto the prospective attendance figures. It’s a shame that the defence of our trophy suddenly seemed to be less appealing to so many. However, this afternoon, more than had been apparent via “dot count” turned up and there was a healthy enough crowd for the team to take the field in front ot. Ayr had not lost to us at Easter Road on two occasions already this season and perhaps this also had a bearing in people’s minds. I preferred to hope and believe it would be third time lucky. This morning, en route to Musselburgh, I spotted a giant billboard with John McGinn bang smack in the middle, advertising a local supermarket. It had to be an omen…didn’t it?
With Darren out through suspension, Fonts out for a couple of months after sustaining an injury in a poor tackle last week, Hanlon still recovering slowly, it was a relief to see the imposing frame of Jordon Forster line up alongside Big Iffy. I really had not fancied us having to take the field of play with a centre half partnership that had never played together before. David Gray had been simply awful on Wednesday night – his worst outing in a Hibs strip – but he kept his place in the side, with Mr Reliable at left back, as usual.
Super had been Average last Saturday and no very good on Wednesday night. The Saints fans had taunted him with the chant “You’re just a shite Steve McGinn”. Many were advocating a rest for him but we have been in no position to afford him that luxury – in case folks hadn’t noticed, Dylan McGeouch has been absent more often than Daniel Sturridge this season…and the rest of the midfield have been anything but super of late, the Gunts game aside. We could only hope Super could be, well, super…
Bartley, Shinnie and Boyle made up the remainder of the midfield, with the latter a very lucky boy to still be in the starting line up. Holty and Jason, the obvious starts up top.
The Scottish Cup sat resplendent in all her glory at the side of the pitch as the two teams came out. It was as visible as possible reminder of what was at stake – as if we didn’t already know that! We started brightly, as per last Saturday, with Shinnie, Boyle and McGinn probing from the off.
John McGinn (the absolutely Super version) opened the scoring when he curled a superb right footed shot past Fleming from the edge of the area after only seven minutes.And it didn’t take very long before Jason Cummings bagged the second from the penalty spot after Martin Boyle had been floored in the area, having cut in from the right hand flank. 11 minutes on the clock and Hibs are happily 2-0 ahead…however, we were in a similar situation last Saturday night and nobody was taking anything for granted. Nor should they have…not long after, narky Gary Harkins played in McGuffie, who from all of 25 yards belted a cracking shot past Rocky, who had no chance with the effort. He should have been closed down better, no doubt, but that was possibly the goal of the round (if we don’t get enough votes in for Super). Hibs settled after this and never looked likely to lose a second that might have caused a ripple of further uncertainty to filter through the support and we got to half time with the scoreline 2-1 to the champions…and a well deserved applause for the side from three stands.
The first half had ended with as straightforward and awful sending off as you can imagine. With Super being super once again and bearing down on the Ayr penalty area, he was taken out in Aussie rules fashion by McKenna, who knew to walk before the referee even got the red card from his pocket. The dismissal, unfortunately, in many ways killed the game. The tempo dropped, Ayr retreated to two banks of four with one up top. They were hoping to hit us on the break with long balls over the top but Iffy showed a level of composure for the entire second period, mopping things up when they did get over the top, strolling through the remaining forty five without breaking sweat. It was enough to prompt a song in appreciation of his efforts and, should he continue in the same vein for the remainder of his time with us, I am certain we will all be “Na, na ,na, na, na. na, na-ing” for the remainder of the season. Keatings would be brought in to freshen things up with about 20 mins to go and he made an instant and telling difference, scoring an excellent (but rare) header that went in off the underside of the crossbar from a David Gray cross. It was a final blow for Ayr, secured a win for the Hibees and assured us a place in the semi-finals. Our third Scottish Cup semi final running and our fifth in six seasons. And to think 2012 “killed us as a club”, eh? 😉
Hibs are going to Hampden and the annual scramble, disputes and frenetic activity around getting a ticket can begin…but only after we take care of league business, starting on Friday night.
To the team…
Rocky – not a huge amount to do but an immeasurable improvement on the performance those of us who went to Paisley witnessed on Wednesday
Sir D of G – better than Wednesday, a solid outing
Fozzy – glad to see him back. The physical presence of Harkins would have been a worry if we’d gone with the much smaller and less experienced Crane. He’ll be sore tonight.
Iffy is a Hibee – strolled through the game, especially the second half. It was a master class in composure.
Lewis – bombed up and down all day, another one who upped their game from Wednesday
Super – aye SUPER. He was back. If not to his absolute Superdooper best, nonetheless Super. Welcome back, son.
Bartman – he’s better when teams come at us, he gets a nose bleed in the final third of the park but he works his erse off. He did so again, today. Better, again.
Boyle – I said at the start he was lucky to start today. He definitely did way better than midweek, made a goal in getting the penalty and generally a pain for the opposition, instead of us. That’s more like it, Boyler.
Shinniesta – Man of the Match from William Hill. I have to say, I can’t argue with that. He is, as the guy behind us says every feckin’ second week, an enigma.
Holty – battered and bashed his way through this one. It’s more what we miss when he does not play that makes him so important than any specifics today. Rest up big man, we need you to batter some Arabs next weekend.
Jason – took his penalty well, offside far too often for my liking. He played, he scored. It’s what strikers are paid to do. Big game coming up. We know what he will give us then.
Keats – what a fine cameo from Keats. Great wee rare header of a goal saw some over-excited celebrations from the entire team. Well done, Keatsy. You were what we needed at exactly the right time. Good lad.
Graham – didn’t do much, on very late
Fyvie – on for Bartman, again late in the day and no time for any impact.
Ref – we’ve had better, we’ve seen worse. At least he did what so many haven’t this season and punished the hammer throwers who have delivered us of so many injured players all season
Lennon – still top of the league, into the semi finals of OUR cup. He’ll be satisfied. The haters are always gonna hate. I just want him to deliver. We’re nearly at the business end. Over to you, Lenny, to bring it home over the course of the next month.
Garry O’Connor – did the half time draw in a flash suit. Wags all round asking if it was from Harvey Nicks
Man of the Match – nice to have a few contenders instead of simply going for the least worst. Super, as said previously, was indeed Super. Efe had a walk in the park. However, I will concur with the sponsors and go for the man they call Shinniesta. An enigma, yes. But a worthy recipient this afternoon. And an apt nickname, given where 1875 is today.
The fans – well played all who turned up. Along with ST holders, you should be at the front of the queue for tickets for Hampden. Did I just say “tickets for Hampden”? I think I did. All aboard the Hibernian rollercoaster – the Hibees are indeed going to Hampden. AGAIN. Happy weekend in Barcelona, 1875. You’ve a semi final to come back to. Happy weekend, all. (And get yerselves up to Dundee, if you can).