At the end of a see-saw 90 minutes of brilliant cup football, the Hibernian players took the applause from a faithful at Hampden who appreciated they had gone down fighting as their hopes of two-in-a-row in the Scottish Cup were extinguished by a 3-2 semi-final defeat by Aberdeen.
It was an expression of sentiment that is has not always found an outlet among the Hibs fans. Shrugging off a defeat is not in Neil Lennon’s manner, however, and the Hibernian manager, inset, seemed almost offended by the forgiveness that came from the stands in the national stadium for the players.
“They get no accolades from me, they might do from the punters, but no accolades from me. Not today,” Lennon said. “They should have won, the opportunity was there, and they will have loads of regrets about the game. They can go home and watch it again. You can talk about tactics and formations, it’s all nonsense. If you gift goals like that, it’s got nothing to do with tactics.
“It’s to do with poor decision-making and bottle. I am not saying they lacked bottle because they showed plenty to get back in the game, it takes a big effort to come from 2-0 down, they get it back to 2-2 and we are fine then and then Aberdeen get a huge slick of luck but if we defend and play properly, we win the game 2-1.”
Lennon was left exasperated by the fact that it “took a 36-year-old to get us back in the game” – how he described the 34th minute introduction of Grant Holt at the expense of Fraser Fyvie. The midfielder reacted angrily to being substituted although he had struggled to make any kind of impression. Lennon, though, sought to prevent him being described as a victim rather than perpetrator of a shambolic first 24 minutes.
“He got thrown under the bus by the rest,” the Hibs manager said. “I had to sacrifice somebody. It could have been four or five of them, it just happened to be Fraser, so the rest owe him a huge apology, but it was the right decision to make.”
Another luckless combatant in the final analysis appeared to be Darren McGregor, who got his knee in the way of a Jonny Hayes drive, to send it off at a vicious tangent and wrong foot Ofir Marciano for the 85th minute clincher.
Not for Lennon, though. “Okay, it was a massive stroke of luck for Aberdeen’s winner, maybe Darren could have adjusted his feet better, “ he said. “But for the first two goals Aberdeen didn’t have to do anything. We gave them the goals.”
Keeper Marciano could have conjured up a dramatic denouement when, sent up for a corner in added time, he powered in a fine header from a corner that drew a smart save from Joe Lewis.
“Coulda, woulda shoulda. Gallant losers are losers. Forget it. You all know me, I am not interested,” said Lennon. “He’s headed it and someone should have got across the keeper to get a touch. [At end, Martin] Boyle’s in [on goal and challenged] and should go down, it’s a penalty. Stays on his feet. [Jason] Cummings is in and lets the ball run away from him. We have had opportunities to make it 3-3.
“McGregor kept winning headers in their box and we didn’t react to the second balls. They are the most important bits that make a difference. You might get a touch or a penalty, we were too static.”