Alan Pattullo: More Scottish Cup misery for Hibs fans

Hibs line up before the Scottish Cup final. Picture: TSPL

Hibs line up before the Scottish Cup final. Picture: TSPL

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IT HAD all started so well, too. Russell Latapy finally turned up for a Scottish Cup final, even if it was 12 years too late as far as Hibs were concerned.

But he was here all the same, urging the Hibee nation on, and wondering why he hadn’t had the firmness of mind to say no to a night out with Dwight Yorke all those years ago.

These teams were contesting their first final since 2001’s 3-0 victory for Celtic, and the scoreline was reprised here again, and with the same degree of comfort, it must be noted.

Hampden was a vale of green and white. Even the ball had adopted this colour scheme for the occasion. The winners, however, wore black, though it was Hibs who mourned their inability to take yet another opportunity to deal with 1902, and all that. Or, at least, this rueful outlook might have been expected.

This wasn’t a downer to compare with 2012, however. If there is anything positive to be taken from that bleak experience 12 months ago, then it is the thought that nothing else can seem quite so bad again. No-one can claim that Hibs treated this defeat lightly, but it didn’t come with the same sting as last year, nor quite the same comprehensiveness.

This loss didn’t feel like it would remain an open wound for the Hibs supporters, such as it did last year, when, long before the end of the 5-1 loss to their nearest rivals, great banks of empty seats could be seen at their end of the ground. It was a lot different last year, even if Hibs had been in the game for longer versus Hearts. At half-time then, there was only one goal in it. This time around it was impossible to imagine that Celtic might conspire to throw away a two-goal lead, and so it proved.

And yet the Hibs fans remained impressively supportive, and backed their team to the hilt. Remarkably, they were even out-singing their counterparts at the other end of the stadium, in the run-up to the cup presentation, and after what had been an enjoyable enough game of football, even if the outcome had been sign-posted from around the eighth minute, when Celtic opened the scoring. This goal broke the spell that had been cast in the minutes directly preceding and proceeding kick-off, when it felt like we might have a rousing cup final on our hands.

As we felt the heat on our faces from the flame canisters brought in for such occasions, and which erupted as the teams marched out, gladiatorial style, we were encouraged to believe that this could be a contest that might be sustained for the full 90 minutes.

Few who observed this scene could not have wished to be part of it. It wasn’t only Latapy who was feeling a touch of envy. Both sets of fans helped make it a spectacle, but there seemed an impressive willingness among the Hibs supporters in particular to enjoy the occasion. They could be the subject of a psychological study; just how many times is seeing your team lose a Scottish Cup final enough?

They poured down the entry points towards Hampden, perhaps buoyed by the knowledge that there was a lot less to lose than had been the case last year. Possibly they were also heartened by a side that looked slightly better equipped than 12 months ago, and who were in the uncommon position of coming into the game on the back of a three-match winning run.

While there was not quite the same sense of trepidation as there was 12 months ago, there was, however, some concern about the condition of Leigh Griffiths, whose fitness had been in some doubt since Friday, when a rumour swept Edinburgh that he had hurt his calf in training.

The urgency with which Hibs sought to shoot down this suggestion did seem to indicate something was up. Still, if they had to, you imagine Hibs would have happily wheeled him out an operating trolley, and of course, he was present on the team sheet when this was handed out an hour before kick off, and he was also conspicuous in the opening minutes as his side began brightly.

There was 1:09 on the clock when Griffiths tried his first shot on goal. He then played a part in the build-up to the first opening of the match, when Eoin Doyle had the chance to head Hibs into the lead from just six yards. His effort was hit too near Fraser Forster, who made the save. As always, you suspected this might come to be viewed as a significant moment, and so it proved.

Celtic scored with their first attack, after Anthony Stokes’ probing cross caught out Paul Hanlon, who seemed to be unaware that Gary Hooper was on his shoulder. With just eight minutes on the clock, Hibs were left with yet another uphill struggle, and it was becoming clear that Griffiths was not operating at optimum levels.

He was taking time to recover after being bundled to the floor and his zest to be involved, normally so apparent, was not quite so evident. Still, he lasted the distance, though, in truth, grew to become an ever more marginal figure. His hands were on his knees and not in the air, celebrating, as Hibs fans would have liked, when he was finally withdrawn, with seven minutes remaining.

Before he, too, was replaced, Doyle had been doing the running, while Griffiths waited for scraps, when normally it is the other way around. Still, Pat Fenlon seemed to think it was worth having Griffiths around. Even his corner kicks are dangerous, though Hibs only forced four of these (Celtic, strangely, forced none, though with Stokes whipping in crosses, they didn’t need them).

By the end of the first half, the Hampden lights were switched on, but hope had left home. One of the Hibs-supporting participants in the shoot-out competition at half-time referenced the semi-final comeback against Falkirk when asked about his team’s prospects in the second-half. “We came back then,” he noted, optimistically. A Celtic side sensing they were 45 minutes away from a double is a different proposition to an inexperienced Falkirk side, however.

Joe Ledley ensured that the cup was bound for Parkhead, with a goal 11 minutes from time. By this end, two more teenagers in Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling had sampled the occasion, and if experience alone is what Hibs can take from the occasion, then it will still have proved a worthwhile expedition.

The Easter Road club will be back here again in the not too distant future, you suspect. Not that this is a thought which is likely to console the Hibs fans.

MORE CUP FINAL ANALYSIS:

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