At around 9.20pm on Friday night, I had already planned the name of my next Blog. The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues seemed the perfect title going into a week against Kilmarnock and Rangers. By 9.36pm, that was scrapped. In fact, it was forgotten about. And it was replaced by disbelief. It shouldn’t have been though. The one thing we’ve surely learned as Hibs fans is our team have a habit of luring us into a false sense of belief before snatching it away, normally in the cruellest way possible. In the last 24 months we have now blown 3 of our biggest games in the dying seconds of games to leave us shattered.
First up was the disaster against Hamilton when we blew a 2 goal first leg lead. More recently was the League Cup Final, where after pretty much dominating the game, we showed a naivety in pressing for a winner in the last minute, and instead conceded. And then there’s Friday. Again, for 180 minutes, we showed we were the better football team than Falkirk. But what they lacked in passing play, they made up for in grit and determination and a never say die attitude. For the 3rd time in a month, they punished us in the last 10 minutes of games. As much as that winning goal hurt, there was a sense of inevitability about it. We’d just hit the bar twice in the previous few minutes, had a header cleared off the line and spurned several other chances over the 2 games. When Falkirk got that throw in in the 91st minute (and 35 seconds) I heard people around me mutter “you know what’s coming here”. And didn’t we just. I know most football fans say that, but we’ve now been in this position far too many times to make it just a throwaway remark. We say it because we really do know what’s likely about to happen.
I’ve slept on it 3 times since Friday, and will admit I still don’t feel much better. In fact, it takes me to remind myself that we actually have a Scottish Cup Final this week. This is going to be the strangest build up to a final ever. I think back recently to Ross County and then the Finals in 2012 and 2013, and for about a fortnight leading up to each one, I was on absolute tenterhooks, and was unable to think about anything else for most of the day (or night). I’m just not getting that yet, and I put it all down to last Friday. And I know I’m not alone. Even the club itself seems to be a wee bit shocked by what’s happened. The updates from the club have been few and far between and I’ve noticed that there’s absolutely no Scottish Cup Final merchandise available to buy from the club shop. It feels like they’re almost embarrassed to go selling it after what’s just happened.
In the aftermath of the match, me and my mates said how Saturday is now about enjoying the day with friends and family, and that the football would almost be an inconvenience. I’ve convinced myself that we will end up defeated. I think I’m trying to pre-empt the defeat so it doesn’t feel as bad. But I’m pretty certain that when the whistle goes at 3pm on Saturday, I will go back to my old self, and a defeat will feel as bad as ever. The thing is, this is probably the best chance we’ve had at winning a Scottish Cup Final for over 30 years. Our previous 3 finals in 2012 & 2013, we had somehow got to the final on the back of pretty ropey seasons. In 2001, the arse had fallen out of our season, culminating in Russell Latapy being sacked before the game, plus we were playing against a very decent Celtic team. Although we have taken a kicking on Friday, we have made a habit of good performances against the better teams we’ve faced this season, which has included 2 home wins against the very team we’re facing this weekend. It’s this thought process that does keep the fire of hope burning inside my head. And yet ultimately it’s this hope that crushes us.
Wow, that was quite deep eh! Best change the subject before I curl up in a ball and have a wee cry.
Looking beyond final, we could be in for an interesting few weeks. Rumours have already started to fly around, for both management and players. Personally, I think that Stubbs will leave us no matter what happens on Saturday. I don’t think he’ll be sacked, but the impression I get from people that know what they are talking about, is that Stubbs is ready to go back down south. It kind of makes sense. His family are still down there, and even although the league has now officially been an abject failure, the cup runs have meant he’s been able to keep his stock high down in England, with talk that he done well with the club and has us playing good football (a couple of points that a lot of people would be happy to debate). If he was to stay here and then the unthinkable of not getting promoted at the THIRD attempt happened, then his reputation would start to get a bit of a bashing. This is probably the perfect time for him to leave from his point of view. And to be honest, possibly from our point of view. I’ve said in this blog before that I like Alan Stubbs. He came in and revitalised the team when we were at an all time low. He likes football to be played the correct way, and in general he has a good eye for a player. But 2 things really bug me about him. Firstly, as I’ve stated on a few occasions, his stubbornness with his style of play. We have been in dire need to up the tempo and get down the wings in some games, but Stubbs has stuck to the same slow build up. Unless we go a goal down and have 20 minutes left. Then the tempo gets cranked up, and you just wonder why it’s taken so long. Secondly, his use of subs. In these play offs, we have watched both the Raith Rovers and Falkirk managers change the game through their use of subs. Meanwhile we leave it till 10 minutes to go in a game at times. I get that he has a large amount of faith in his first 11, but he needs to recognise when things need changing.
So the next question is then, who comes in next. Already names like Stuart McCall and Owen Coyle have been flung around. It will certainly be interesting to see if we go down the experienced manager route (in recent years that option has spelled disaster – Butcher in particular), or down the Stubbs or Mowbray route. I think I would actually like to see someone come in this time that has the right philosophy, but has a bit of experience about them. Maybe Stuart McCall wouldn’t be a bad shout, maybe someone like Jim McIntyre from Ross County, although why would he drop down a division, and also we’re unlikely to pay a fee.
I just hope a change of manager doesn’t mean a complete squad overhaul again though. I’d like to think we have the core of a good team that any manager could work with. With only Hanlon, Logan, Thomson and Dagnall out of contract (as well as the loan deals ending for Henderson, Stokes and Gunnarson), there should be plenty continuity in the team while having a bit of budget to play with. I personally think Cummings will go. I don’t think he’ll sign a new contract, so it’s sell him now or let him leave for nothing next year, so a striker, and a centre half (should Hanlon leave) will be priority. Striker wise, I hope we look to bring in a target man, maybe someone like Henri Anier. We’ll still have James Keatings and the returning Jamie Insall, and I think we’ve really missed a big presence up front at times this season. There was always the hope that Farid El Alagui would fill that role but unfortunately the guy has just been a waste of a wage for the last 2 seasons. The other thing I hope a new manager looks for is out and out wingers. We have lacked width and pace for quite some time and it really is gonna be required to break down these 10 man defences next season.
So as much as it’s been a painful week, with either agony or ecstasy to come on Saturday, there will be interesting times ahead. There are no excuses for Hibs next season. We will go into the season as favourites for the league, and we will need to live by that tag, otherwise attendances may suffer. The club have been lucky they’ve managed to secure over 7,000 season tickets for next season on the back of the cup final, as otherwise we’d maybe struggle for 4,000. So in normal championship circumstances, there will be decent base crowds at Easter Road. Its then up to the players and staff to increase the weekly walk up numbers by getting the performances and (even more importantly) results right.
Anyway, let’s cross those fingers and hope that just for once, the Scottish cup gods are looking down on us. By god we deserve it.