Lose yourself

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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.

Why does it always rain on me?

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So as always happens every year, Winter turns into Spring. And like almost always happens as these seasons change, things start to go horribly wrong down Leith.
We’ve been here before, too many times it seems. Great (or at least decent) first half of the season, then as soon as we get to February/March, thnings start to go pear shaped. Perfect examples of that in recent years was the second half of the season under John Hughes, where after sitting in the top 2 for the majority of the early months, we could then hardly win a game, majorly highlighted in a 6-6 loss to Motherwell (yes I did say loss), and then more recently and more painfully, our second half of season collapse under Terr….no I can’t even bring myself to type his name. We got a great result against Hearts at Easter, road, and then were 2-0 up against Dundee Utd in the next game, then the wheels fell off. That game finished 2-2 and I think we won 1 more game all season.

So why does it happen? is there any rhyme or reason for it? Is there something in the water down Leith, or is it just coincidence. I find it hard to believe that it is purely coincidence thats for sure – it just seems to happen too often. But could I put my finger on what causes it? No, and I doubt there’s anyone that could confidently say why.

Tuesday night was probably the story of our season (and our club in general) wrapped up in 90 minutes. Bright start, playing well, fans thinking we’ve done enough and he can go home with something to smile about then, boom, Hibs remind us who we support.

I actually really enjoyed the game for 86 minutes on Tuesday. I thought Falkirk started the brighter and i was concerned at how the game would go, but that defensive blunder that gave us the lead seemed to change the momentum. I thought we played with pace and confidence. Its like the goal just brought back that Hibs team from last October/November. As usual we probably should’ve been more than 1 ahead, and I thought the officials done absolutely nothing to help the game. The number of baffling decisions from them was unreal, and they allowed Falkirk to stick to their gameplan of trying to kick Hibs off the park. I was completely comfortable, as were the team, but then when we went 2-0 up, the jitters seemed to well and truly kick in. Not seeing the game out from that point is truly dreadful. Falkirk had one tactic, lump the ball into the box, and yet we allowed them to do it, and even helped them by giving them a number of free kicks away in our own half. Surely with the players ability in our team, we should have been able to keep the ball against 10 men and see it out.

We’ve seen in recent times that Falkirk don’t give up in games, evidenced by their 3-2 win against Rangers recently after being 2-0 down, but yet we invited them in. The one thing I will say as a positive, as it was good to see us playing a flat 4-4-2 instead of the diamond formation. It suited us better, and gave us more width. At least Stubbs seemed to adapt FINALLY. I though Fraser Fyvie, Lewis Stevenson and Marvin Bartley in particular played really well. But again, there is no excusing for that 5 minute meltdown.

My drive home was a sore one, compounded by Peter Houstons radio interview where he as usual came across as a bitter jambo. You’d think after he had to apologise earlier in the season for his comments about John McGinn “going down easily” you would think he would zip it, but again he feels the need to say that David Gray got his sock ripped by Tom Taiwo and got him booked. This is the same David Gray that had to go off injured at the start of the second half because of that very challenge. And yet the BBC Sportsound team seemed to lap it up finding “that cheeky scamp” peter Houston, hilarious. No surprise there. Peter Houston was right about one thing tho – after last years semi final loss, he pointed out that the way to get at Hibs was crosses into the box. He pointed it out to everyone. Yet here we are, a year later, still suffering from exactly the same achilles heal. That is very poor. This should have been addressed a long time ago.

So yet again we ask, where do we go from here. Yet again we are going to have to do things the hard way. Finishing 2nd looks pretty unlikely so to get promoted we’re going to have to beat Raith Rovers, Falkirk and a Premiership team all over 2 legs. Can we do it? Yes definitely. Will we? Who knows. 3 rounds is tough for anyone to get through, let alone a team that has hit the run of form we have. Especially when Raith and Falkirk are both in very decent form at the minute, and neither will fear playing us. But we have to be upbeat, and get behind the team, as we always do. Because if we do somehow manage to get through those 6 games, it will feel even better because of whats happened recently.

But before all that we have the small matter of the Scottish Cup. I have read some say that this game doesn’t matter due to our league situation. I can’t agree. I go to the games with my dad and his friends who are mainly in their mid-60’s. Ask these guys what 1 thing they would like to see before they head off to that big Leith San Siro in the sky, and I’m pretty sure they would all say “Hibs to win the Scottish Cup”. So whenever we get to this stage, its always important. We should never be blaze’ about winning this trophy, or any trophy for that matter. My greatest days as a Hibs fan have been cup wins, (both semis and League cup finals). Imagine how that would feel if it was the Scottish Cup that we managed to pick up.

So yes, I’m excited for Saturday. Yet again i get to have an away day with my friends and family, and as it happens, we happen to be playing the one team in Scottish football that is a bigger basketcase than us. Utd seem to be in dissaray at the minute, with the whole strange Gavin Gunning situation, sitting bottom of the Premiership, and facing their captain being out injured for the remainder of the season. We have already beaten them 3-0 this season, but of course that was when we were at our peak. We can still take confidence from that tho, and its worth remembering that in recent times we have a fairly decent Cup semi final record with wins against St Johnstone, Falkirk and Aberdeen since 2012, and just last seasons loss to Falkirk as a negative.

So bring them on. If we go out, then well, we’ve been there before, but win and we can look forward to a 3rd Scottish cup final in 5 seasons, then sit back on Sunday and watch the New Old Firm kick lumps out of each other. And then we can start to dream again for a while….