It defies belief that it could take Hibernian 114 years to win the Scottish Cup and that it now feels as if it will take another 114 years before the achievement is viewed simply in the context of the glorious sporting triumph it truly was.
The Hibs fans that set to the field in their thousands, scores that galloped towards the Rangers end to taunt rivals who were – in the main – mercifully restrained, and the handful that tore into Ibrox players and tore up the pitch and goal frames, have committed a grave offence to both the Scottish game and their club.
Especially to Alan Stubbs and his players, with two-goal Anthony Stokes the peerless match-winner among these. This group, deserved winners from an epic, energising encounter, didn’t just win the cup. They slayed every stereotype that has been sneeringly offered about them in the process. They took every single Hibs trope – the capacity to suffer vanquishment from victorious positions in desperate denouements – and cast them to the wind.
In a reversal of their League Cup final and Premiership play-off semi-final fortunes, when added time cranked round, Hibs found the way to win. In the self same fashion that they had found the way to avoid defeat a mere ten minutes earlier. That isn’t supposed to be what happens with this Easter Road team, but yesterday was different, dazzlingly when set in the context of a club that have suffered so much in such circumstances.
It was palpable that, when a sumptuous strike from Andy Halliday in the 64th minute put Rangers 2-1 ahead from an encounter they struggled to get going in throughout, there was a collective dredging up of new reserves from within themselves from the Hibs players.
They weren’t prepared to let this go. Neither was Stubbs, whose pro-active substitutions were central to ending a pursuit of Scotland’s oldest silverware that stretched back to 1902. Crucial proved the removal of Liam Fontaine to accommodate Liam Henderson as the Hibs manager switched from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2. It was Henderson’s near-post corner that Stokes popped up at the near post to head home in 80 minutes to make it 2-2. Then another Henderson corner, swung further out and met nearer the middle of goal allowed David Gray to snap his neck muscle and deliver the 92nd-minute goal that proved all too much of a dam-bursting moment for the pent up frustrations of the Hibernian support.
But the post-match scenes should be parked for the purposes of considering the final on its own merits. As these games go, this wasn’t just open, it was a ludicrously open game. As Hibs chance-missing goes, meanwhile, the squandering was at levels only matched for ridiculousness by the slackness from Rangers that allowed the openings in the first place.
The tone was set by Stokes’ third-minute opener. A meander down the open swathes of the left flank, where James Tavernier and Rob Kiernan were nominally patrolling, allowed the Irishman to daintily hop inside and poke the ball across Wes Foderingham and into a large gap the goalkeeper had left to the right of him.
Successive openings followed for Hibs. Against opponents that betrayed the rustiness of having not played for 20 days, the number of these threatened to run into double figures during the opening 25 minutes. These were typically characterised by Stokes – often after fully exploiting his left-flank licence to roam – or Jason Cummings finding themselves in behind a seemingly invisible Rangers backline, or in space in the penalty box, and tamely striking the ball towards goal.
As each effort rolled wide or towards Foderingham so the euphoria that had gripped the Hibs faithful following the opening goal began to give way to a gnawing feeling. They knew what was coming next against an opponent that hadn’t been able to get any sort of grip and, in consequence, had been overwhelmed in all but scoreline.
Rangers’ equaliser came from the one player who seemed to possess a cup final edge in their ranks in the form of the irrepressible Kenny Miller. A glorious arced cross from the left by Tavernier was met by Miller full force for an imperious header Conrad Logan couldn’t get near.
The response was a 25-yard drive from Stokes that thumped the upright, with the personal joust he seemed to be having with Miller seeing the 36-year-old then crack the crossbar with another thunderous header. The half ended with Foderingham pushing away a Stokes effort from the edge of the area, only for the goalkeeper then to be required to save at the feet of the off-colour Cummings seconds later.
It was a bonkers half and it was incredible that it could be eclipsed by a second period. For Stubbs and those in Hibernian colours who deserved to have that pitch to themselves at the end of the 50 minutes, the crying shame was what followed in the final whistle eclipsed their herculean Hibs effort.
Referee: S McLean
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, D Wilson, Wallace, Zelalem (Shiels 63), Halliday, Holt, Waghorn (Clark 75), Miller, McKay. Subs not used: Bell, Law, Burt.
Hibernian: Logan, McGregor, Hanlon (Gunnarsson 83), Fontaine (Henderson 70), Gray, Fyvie, McGeouch, McGinn, Stevenson, Stokes, Cummings (Keatings 65). Subs not used: Oxley, Bartley, Boyle, Dagnall.
Referee: S McLean. Attendance: 50,701.