Aberdeen progress to May’s Scottish Cup final where they wait for the winners from the Old Firm derby after a thrilling clash with Hibernian. Here are five things we learned from the engrossing encounter.
Aberdeen’s pressure told
One of the most famous goals in Aberdeen history was scored in 1982. John Hewitt netted the fastest goal in Scottish Cup history at Fir Park after 9.6 seconds. That January strike set the Dons on course for European success 16 months later. Derek McInnes will be hoping that Adam Rooney’s goal after 11 seconds against Hibs will lead to success in just over a month’s time.
Rooney pounced on an egregious error from Darren McGregor before slamming into the corner past a helpless Ofir Marciano while Efe Ambrose lay prone on the surface having tried but failed to stop Rooney advancing in on goal.
It began from a very positive start from Aberdeen. Derek McInnes, in his post-match interview, said they were prepared for the way Hibs take kick-off. A horde of Aberdeen players bore down on John McGinn, won the ball to then spring forward. Marvin Bartley may have cut out the immediate danger but such was the pressure he only had one option, to pass back to McGregor. From there Aberdeen were ahead.
Last week, against St Johnstone, McInnes surprised many by playing Graeme Shinnie as the advanced midfielder. It worked as it gave Kenny McLean and Ryan Jack space to play in the midfield. McInnes stuck with the same set-up and having Shinnie’s powerful running and indefatigably allowed him to press from high up with support from the midfield and Rooney working across the front-line.
The Dons were everywhere in the opening half an hour, pinning Hibs back in their own half. Jason Cummings was isolated in attack with Martin Boyle and McGinn not able to get up to support. A lot of this was down to Aberdeen’s attitude. There was the sense that they wanted to prove they were the second best side in the country.
By forcing their game on Hibs they were able to play in their opponent’s half. This meant McLean was still able to become an influence in the final third despite being fielded in a deeper role. His one-two opened up Hibs in the 25th minute, only a Fraser Fyvie foul prevented the Dons advancing into the box, but they scored from the resultant free-kick. At that point and in the five minutes which followed it looked like Aberdeen may do to Hibs what they have done to a number of Premiership rivals this season.
But it would soon change.
Neil Lennon gets it wrong - then gets it right
Two moments in the opening 20 minutes demonstrated how difficult Hibs were finding their first return to Hampden since that David Gray header. First, a composed Lewis Stevenson appealed to his players for calm after four minutes. Just over ten minutes later an agitated Neil Lennon exploded at his midfield to show for the ball, to want it, to get on it.
As Lennon said in his explosive interview with Sky Sports after the game, you can’t legislate for individual errors. But it could equally be labelled at him. He simply got his tactics wrong. Having gone 4-4-2 against Hearts in the last-16 double header, Hibs were the deserved winners over the 180 minutes. They showed the Premiership side no respect. There was the sense that they perhaps respected Aberdeen too much, perhaps scared of what the Dons could do to them, rather than focusing on what they could do to their Premiership opponents.
They tried to play football, even after going down early on. He said as much post-match, saying McGregor should have launched the ball when it was passed back to him. Hibs were reticient hitting the ball long and bypassing Aberdeen’s pressure. Not launching it at Cummings who would simply lose the aerial battle to Ash Taylor but to find the space down the flanks for the striker to chase and try and bring the side up the pitch.
Many managers would wait until half-time. Lennon was proactive. Grant Holt was introduced for a distraught Fraser Fyvie, much to the delight of the Aberdeen support. Hibs finally had a focal point to play off.
Grant Holt rises to the occasion
Grant Holt hasn’t been maligned but he certainly hasn’t been adored by the Easter Road faithful. He has only scored three goals in 28 Championship appearances. He simply hasn’t been as effective as many imagined in the league. In fact he has disappointed. Certainly for a player who has scored 24 goals in 80 Premier League games in England.
However, he gained much respect in February when he was the best player over 180 minutes in the Edinburgh derbies. He thrived in the derby environment, feeding off the atmosphere. He seemed to gain a yard of pace, an extra few inches in his jump and a wee bit more muscle mass. He simply bullied the Hearts back line. He charged around, chucking his weight about, leaving his mark. Plus he scored.
He grabbed his second of the Scottish Cup run two minutes after entering the match. Martin Boyle found space for the first time in the midfield, drove forward, sped past Andrew Considine before finding Holt in the six-yard-box. Holt couldn’t miss but he positioned himself brilliantly with Ash Taylor completely unaware of the Hibs striker.
But, like the derby matches, he offered much more than a goal threat. His presence allowed Hibs to push higher up the pitch and squeeze the game. He bullied and provoked. While Jason Cummings was fobbed off with ease, Aberdeen’s players were unwilling to get drawn into the physical battle with Holt.
He was dropping into the midfield to get on the ball, link play and start attacks. To play-make.
He played a pivotal role in the excellent second goal; the recipient of a pass from Dylan McGeouch, while simultaneously pushing Anthony O’Connor back. He flicked the ball into McGeouch’s path. The midfielder ran on to it freely and slotted past Joe Lewis. As soon as the pass was made into Holt Taylor immediately changed his focus to the striker despite him being marked.
Hotl clearly left his mark, raising his performance for another big game. He didn’t deserved to be on the losing side.
The ghost of Hibs’ goalkeeping past
It is just over 11 years to the day Hibs suffered Hampden heartbreak in the shape of a 4-0 defeat to rivals Heart of Midlothian. There are similarities to the defeat to Aberdeen, namely individual errors.
Back in 2006 it was the infamous Zibi Malkowski. This afternoon it was Darren McGregor and Ofir Marciano. McGregor’s error will receive much of the focus, simply because it came only 10 seconds into the game.
However, Marciano’s failure to keep out Ryan Christie’s free-kick will send shivers down the spine of many Hibs fans. They will remember that Paul Hartley free-kick and that Malkowski misjudgement. Marciano was anticipating the pull-back to Kenny McLean but was out-foxed. Yet, he only shares some of the blame. The wall of Dylan McGeouch and Martin Boyle split meekly to allow the ball come into the area.
While Hibs’ goalkeeping past reared its head Hibs fans should be comforted knowing this was just a blip while the Israeli international is between the sticks. And going from the last few seconds he is a dab hand in the air.
Derek ‘Tinkerman’ McInnes
Aberdeen did not enjoy the second half, well until the full-time whistle. After being so dominant in the first 30 minutes they couldn’t adjust to the Hibs change which saw Grant Holt enter the fold.
Derek McInnes opted to go for a back three which was often a back five in the second half with Andrew Considine moving infield and Jonny Hayes playing as a wing-back. But that wasn’t all, Kenny McLean was pushed further forward and Graeme Shinnie dropped deeper. Then McLean was the highest player with Adam Rooney playing from the left.
Anthony O’Connor was brought on to solidify the Dons backline only to concede a matter of seconds after the substitution was made.
McInnnes’ biggest mistake in the opening months of the season was his willingness to tinker with not only his starting XI but the system in which they played, even during games. His micro-management clearly had a negative effect. But since defeat to Ross County in December it has been much more consistent. Even his changes when things haven’t been going well during the game you could see what McInnes was wanting to do, what he was trying. That wasn’t the case against Hibs.
Eventually, you could say his changes finally worked. Niall McGinn came on for Mark Reynolds which saw Hayes move from the left. It was he who skipped between Marvin Bartley and John McGinn to fire in the fortuitous winner.