LEIGH Griffiths fired Hibernian into the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup yesterday with his first hat-trick in senior football, then voiced his desperation to make amends for the club’s collapse in last year’s final.
Hibs won 4-2 at Kilmarnock to become the last team through to today’s draw, joining Dundee United – 2-1 victors over Dundee yesterday – and Saturday’s winners Celtic and Falkirk.
“That’s my first hat-trick – I’ve done it in youth football, but nothing compares to doing it in a Scottish Cup quarter-final,” Griffiths said. “It was a magnificent feeling, but the important thing was that we got through. It was a great team performance and we deserved to win.
“The place was really bouncing with our fans and it was like that at the quarter-final stage last year, when we came down to Ayr. It was a massive crowd that day – and thankfully the fans came down in their numbers to support us again.”
Griffiths was one of perhaps only two or three players to emerge with any credit from last year’s final, when Hibs were crushed 5-1 by Hearts. But, having grown up as a Hibs supporter, the striker was in no way consoled by his own performance.
“The gaffer spoke to us after the game on Wednesday to remind us how important this game was going to be, how important it was to get back to Hampden,” he went on. “‘We embarrassed not just ourselves but the club, most of all, in a massive final last year.
“Now we’ve got a semi-final and a chance to get through – then hopefully go one step further and win the cup. That was definitely my worst feeling in football, losing the final last year, without a doubt. It was the biggest Edinburgh derby there will ever be, so to go out like that was a shambles really.”
Hibs last won the cup in 1902, and Griffiths was wary of expressing hopes that his club’s so-called hoodoo was about to end. “I don’t know – we tried to say that last year. We were all asking if it was our year, saying there wouldn’t be any better way to do it than against Hearts. But we got absolutely humiliated.
“So we’re not going to talk about the final just yet. We’ve got important league games coming up, starting with Hearts next week.”
“It is hard being part of that, but it’s not just me who is a Hibs fan – Paul Hanlon is in there as well. We know what it would mean to the Hibs fans to win the cup.
“As I said, we humiliated ourselves last year in probably the biggest game that will ever be played between Hibs and Hearts. We’ve got a chance to rectify that now. We’re two steps away.
“The more often we get there, the more chance we have of winning. We’ve got to keep knocking on the door. Reaching two semi-finals in two years – I don’t know the last time Hibs did that. We’ve got to look forward to that.”
Griffiths, whose wrist was bandaged as a precaution after straining it in the warm-up, is now on 22 goals for the season – one more than his previous record with Livingston. “I’m aiming for a target – I won’t say what it is, but if I can reach it, I’ll be delighted. Those were my first goals in the cup this season, so hopefully I can score a few more in the league and hit the net again in the semi-final.”
On current form, the striker seems set to be included in the Scotland squad for the game against Wales later this month, but if that happens he will take it in his stride. “There are a lot of great strikers out there – guys like Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes banging in goals in the Premiership and Championship,” he added.
“So I’ll just keep my head down, score my goals in the SPL, and if that gets me international recognition, fine. If not, I’m not going to be too disappointed.”
Meanwhile, Dundee manager John Brown claimed assistant referee Andrew McWilliam cost his side a replay after he failed to flag for a throw-in before Brian McLean headed Dundee United’s first goal in a 2-1 win at Dens Park.
“I’m pretty bitter about a decision that never went our way, a clear throw-in, that ultimately results in a free-kick that shouldn’t have happened. I don’t really need to talk about how you defend it because that shouldn’t come into play if they do their jobs right.
“An official has cost this football club a replay and a chance to get to a semi-final. That decision in the first half basically took it out of our hands.”
Brown said he spoke to the SFA observer, former referee Bob Valentine, after the game. He said: “The referee supervisor came out and said the ball was out. It’s human error but it’s a sore one to take. I’m ten yards away and he’s right there. How he can’t see that...
“I don’t want to be throwing it all on the official but that one decision...you need them to be on their game, they don’t do it right and it has cost us the game. Take that away and it was an even game. But I wish United all the best.”
United manager Jackie McNamara said: “It was quite an even match, we can play a lot better but Dundee made it hard for us.
“It was a typical cup tie and derby, not a lot of quality or passing. But credit to our lads, and Dundee as well, they put a lot of pressure on us and put extra men up front. I thought we coped with it really well.”