Scottish Cup final: Hibernian 1 - 5 Hearts: Hearts pounding has hapless Hibs in hiding
FOOTBALL’S capacity for cruelty was rarely more evident than at Hampden where Hearts didn’t so much win the Scottish Cup as annex a club’s spirit.
This was sport at its most glorious and its most grisly, a source of unending joy for one half of the capital and unimaginable misery for the other. Long before Marius Zaliukas climbed the stairs and hoisted the silver to the early evening sky, the green half had flown, to their buses, to their pubs, to the bunkers they hope will offer respite from this nightmare, if only for a little while.
When they emerge from hiding, Hearts people will be waiting for them. No rush. They have the rest of their lives to talk about what went on here. And how they will talk. They will, for the rest of their days, eulogise these players, reliving the little dervish that was Rudi Skacel and the two goals he scored, saluting the departing Ian Black and the way he bossed things in midfield, celebrating over and over at the memory of Hibs fans leaving early and their manager, Pat Fenlon, getting sent to the stand as the desperation got hold of him.
Fenlon dismantled his players in the aftermath, accused them of lacking fight and desire and he was right. Hibs were here in body but not in heart – or in the case of Pa Kujabi, not there either in body or heart after he was sent off mere seconds into the second half. Hibs were feeble. Lacking ability is one thing, but lacking stomach is another. Fenlon will move some players on now, but the stain of this loss is indelible. It stays. A piece of baggage their fans will carry forever.
You could say that Hibs’ calamities were down to the anxiety of the occasion, but that would be to ignore the evidence of the season. They have been a defensive horror show for too long. A sitting duck. Hearts measured them up and blew them away. They got a fortunate penalty but were not flattered by the scoreline. They could have scored more. As bad as this was for Hibs, it could have been worse.
The stuff of their nightmares unfolded early. There had been little frissons of aggravation in the opening minutes, Black barged Lee Griffiths, an offence that would have brought a yellow card on another day and might have even brought a red and a half-hearted retaliatory swipe from Gary O’Connor soon after but, above all, there was an impending sense that Hearts were beginning to put it together and that some goal-threat wasn’t long in coming.
Maybe it came a little earlier than we thought, but come it did and for Hibs it was another abject lapse at the back, a dozy response in dealing with a corner and a subsequent game of head tennis in their penalty area. Hibs’ defenders allowed Hearts one header and then another and even when the ill-fated Kujabi had a chance to clear he couldn’t do it effectively enough.
Even then, there was slapstick. Ryan McGowan took a lash at the ball and missed, but given the freedom he had he was allowed to have another go, this time connecting, his shot getting diverted into Darren Barr’s path, from where he could hardly fail to score.
There were 14 minutes on the clock and already Hearts had established dominance, a feelgood factor that only intensified in the minutes that followed when Kujabi fouled Suso Santana and got the first of his yellows. Not long after, Hearts doubled their advantage. Once again, Black did as he pleased in possession, twisting out of a tackle and finding the space to pick out Skacel on the edge of the Hibs’ box. James McPake stood off him, fatally. He allowed Hearts’ most destructive finisher to turn and measure his sights and didn’t do enough to stop him. Sure, Skacel’s shot took a helpful deflection off the defender before flying past Mark Brown, but that’s what you get when you try your luck as Skacel did and when you tempt fate as McPake did.
Wildly contrasting emotions now. Glee at one end and silence at the other. Noise over here and the sound of a pin dropping over there. Hearts were better, but they were hungrier too. It was an opening half that saw them enjoy 75 per cent possession but ended with a flurry from their opponents, who managed to climb off the canvas to deliver a blow before getting pummelled senseless later on. It was McPake who got it, a tap-in from close range after Tom Soares put a ball in from the right, but it was a fleeting glimpse of respectability before the most desperate gloom descended on the green half.
Just 40 seconds into the new half Kujabi walked. No arguments about the red card, he pulled Suso’s jersey and deserved to go. The offence, though, took place outside the box and had Hibs people in apoplexy at the injustice of it all. Kujabi disappeared and the worst 45 minutes of Hibs’ history unfolded like some vision of hell. Danny Grainger took the penalty and put it away with aplomb for 3-1 and before Hibs had time to ponder this Kafkaesque nightmare they found themselves in, they were 4-1 down through a goal that, in many ways, typified their problems. Another corner, more hesitancy, a few bites at the cherry – Skacel, then Stephen Elliott – before Ryan McGowan flung himself at the loose ball and headed it home. Like air out of a balloon, the life went out of Hibs and, for the rest of the day, they were mere training ground opposition for their neighbours, offering a little resistance but no threat. Before the end, a fifth goal arrived. A second for Skacel, the darling of the day and now the icon of the ages at Tynecastle. He skipped past two and put his shot through McPake’s legs and into the corner.
A terrible beauty, this. A wondrous experience for Hearts and a brutal laceration for Hibs, with scars that will last a lifetime.
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