Mondays are my least favourite day of the week, and I’m sure that thought is shared by many, but its amazing how much better a Monday morning can feel when your team qualified for the Scottish Cup Final over the weekend. I wrote last week about how I’d read a bit about people not being bothered about the semi, and how we didn’t need the game, and I continued to read that even on Friday night and Saturday morning. I reckon I’m pretty safe in saying, that feeling had disappeared by 3pm on Saturday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the prettiest way to get over the line, but it made for a great story as a new cult hero emerged, and at the end of the day, we now have another shot at winning THAT trophy.
A lot of the discussion on our bus through to Hampden was around what keeper was going to start, and when the team news came through it was a very mixed reaction. I had a feeling it was going to be Logan. My thoughts were, if Virtanen was going to start, Logan wouldn’t have even been signed, but some were against a goalkeeper being played when he hadn’t played a first team game in nearly a year and a half, but what a masterstroke it turned out to be.
The start of the game was very promising from a Hibs point of view. We looked like the team that played against Falkirk for 85 minutes, and created a couple of half chances early on. The game seemed to take a bit of a swing once we’d been awarded the penalty. I had a horrible feeling it wasn’t going to go in, but the way Jason took it was unbelievable. Try that at 3-0 up maybe, but at 0-0 in a Scottish Cup Semi Final? Crazy.
I felt our performance dropped a bit after that. Nerves seemed to kick in again, and certainly once the 2nd half was in full flow, it was Dundee Utd that looked the stronger side. And their fans sensed that too, trying to get behind their side, whereas the 13,000 Hibs fans sounded a bit flat. There was a real sense of “you know whats gonna happen here” and that feeling increased when Henri Anier was brought on, to the point where I had a look to see if Coral were offering odds of the next goalscorer in play. Luckily for me, they weren’t.
By extra time, it looked like Utd had ran out of steam too and both teams were really quite pooor. 2 sides low in confidence and both seemed almost happy to accept a penalty shootout. If it wasn’t for one man tho, there wouldn’t have been a penalty shootout.
When the teams came out the tunnel, it would have been a fair judgement to think that the guy in the fluorescent green goalkeeper jersey was a fan that had won a competition to lead the teams out, but when Billy Mckay got through into a 1 on 1 with our debutant keeper, his experience showed, and he had to repeat that feat a further 2 times during the match. He looked confident, seemed to communicate with his defence well, and wasn’t scared to get amongst the players from a set piece to punch clear. So I suppose when the game went to penalties, the stage was set. He had already got Man of the Match in mine and may others opinion, but he really did complete his hero status after just 2 penalties. Obviously I never realised it at the time, but it was quite amusing watching the shootout back on tv, to see Logan screaming at each penalty taker as they waited to take their kick. It sounded like he was shouting “down the middle” but whatever it was, I’m surprised the referee never said anything. It clearly irked the utd players tho, as the 2 boys that did score gestured to Logan when they did so. Kudos to the 4 lads that stepped up to take our penalties tho, there were certainly no sign of nerves from those lads, each one was expertly dispatched and it was a stick on that the final penalty was going to fall to a certain Jason “Pirlo” Cummings. Good to see that he’d learned from earlier in the match, although the goalie seemed to think that he was gonna do the same again, standing absolutely still as Jason rolled it past him.
So as I say, not pretty, but we are there, and once in the final, anything can happen. We then had a wait to see who came out trumps in what seemed to be lauded by the media as the biggest game in world football EVER. It was actually a decent enough game, and I think the better team did eventually win. But I always like to look for positives, and mine would be, even after being the better team and facing a out of sorts Leigh Griffiths, Rangers still conceded 2 goals. We have beaten them this season, and the way Rangers play, we WILL get chances against them. Also they will be missing a few of their regulars due to suspensions and being cup tied – O’Halloran, King, Ball off the top of my head. My biggest concern will be how we line up. I feel if Stubbs goes with the diamond, we will be giving Rangers a free license to do what they do best – get down the wings with pace. 3-5-2 has suited us on more than 1 occasion, so it will be very interesting to see how Stubbs chooses to play it. Obviously we play them this Wednesday, but I think anyone would be daft to think the result of that would have any kind of baring on how the final will go. The teams will probably both line up quite differently, this is almost a nothing game to Rangers now (and means much more to us), and more importantly, there is always going to be different pressures between a run of the mill league game, and a cup final. Lets hope our players can use the experience of our other cup final this season to drive them in this one. And the other thing for them to use is that it looks like we have already been completely written off. I have already read a fair few Rangers fans saying the treble is now in the bag (although classing the Petrol can cup as part of a treble is quite frankly absurd), so hopefully their players go in with the same attitude. I realise we haven’t had the greatest of form recently, and Rangers are capable of playing good football, but so are we on our day, and have players capable of scoring goals. Its a one off game and I’m already looking forward to it.
A big plus for me is we will hopefully have Dylan McGeouch back for our end of season charge. Dylan is a big miss for us. He is definitely our most creative player and I saw a stat today that with him in the team we’ve won 71% of games, without him, 48%. Now I realise stats can be used to win any argument, but we definitely lack creativity with him out the side, especially when our other main creative influences seem to be going through a bit of a crisis of confidence.
Nearly as soon as the final penalty had been taken on Saturday, the talk had already turned to the number 1 discussion on Hibs social media recently – ticket distribution/loyalty points. Its an interesting one because there is a lot of people desperate to go obviously, but when our average attendance this season is around 9k, its crazy to see us arguing over 22,000 tickets. Maybe its because I know my final ticket is safe, and i realise people use holidays to get off work and travel from the other side of the world to attend Cup Finals.We should be thankful as season ticket holders that we are guaranteed a ticket. Imagine being a season ticket holder yet not being guaranteed a ticket for a cup final. That would be frustrating I would imagine.
I do think its important for the club to try and capitalise on being in the final by linking in with Season Ticket sales for next season. Some may call this blackmail, but the club will be aware that there is a chance we will be in this division again this season, so need to do something to keep season ticket sales up. It worked in the past, and I’m sure it would sell some season tickets again. Based on that then, you would need to think that current season ticket holders will be entitled to 1 ticket, but if you renew for next season, you will get 2. Its been done like this before and seems the most sensible option, although there will always be people that aren’t happy with how its done – its impossible to please everyone.
It’s important now though that the cup goes on the backburner. We have a big month ahead, and if 2nd place becomes out of reach, we HAVE to be fully focused for the first of the playoff games. Raith as have shown in recent weeks, are a decent outfit, and we will need to perform well over 2 games to get past them. The same goes for Falkirk obviously, but if we can get to 5pm on the 14th May and can still get promoted, then what a 10 days it will be for Hibs fans.
Anyway, I’m away to watch Saturdays penalty shootout for the 23rd time.