THERE is a point where self-belief becomes self-delusion. Where, no matter the faith you have in your powers of recovery, you realise the game is up.
It is a point which Hibernian would have passed at Hampden on Saturday had Lyle Taylor scored on the verge of half-time to put Falkirk 4-0 in front. Had Ben Williams failed to save from the striker, that would have been it: no crazy comeback, no place in the Scottish Cup final.
But Williams did save. And, an hour and a half later with his team 4-3 up, he saved again from the same player to ensure the victory that sealed Hibs a place in the Scottish Cup final and, following Celtic’s win yesterday, also a place in Europe next season. Leigh Griffiths was named sponsors’ man of the match, and Alex Harris sparked Hibs’ recovery with their first goal, yet without Williams none of it would have been possible. “Ben’s save from Lyle Taylor at 3-0 was a massive save,” acknowledged Ryan McGivern. “And he did it again two minutes from the end of extra time from the same player. That was another top save. But I think he’s the best keeper in the league and he’s been doing that all season.”
By the time Williams made that 43rd-minute save from Taylor, many Hibs fans had walked out of the national stadium in disgust. Others had screamed abuse at manager Pat Fenlon, who looked certain to carry the can for the defeat had the fightback not materialised.
But McGivern insisted that the first-half flop had been the players’ fault, and that the boss should not have been blamed. “I don’t think anyone can say the manager’s job was in question,” he said. “He’s done a terrific job since I joined, and although we haven’t made the top six and that’s disappointing, we’re in the final with a chance to end the season on a high.
“We can still do that by having five good games in the SPL to finish as high as we can, and then the final. The manager has brought in plenty of players and things take time, so it’s outrageous if anyone was talking about his future.
“We let the fans down in the first half and ourselves down. It was an embarrassing performance and that’s what was said in the dressing room at half-time.
“I’m sure you can imagine yourself what it was like – you’re in a semi-final which you’re expected to win and you are going into the dressing room 3-0 down. After a first-half performance like that, there are not going to be too many happy faces. Words were exchanged. Everyone said their piece. Everyone was having a go and saying we had to get the right result.
“I wasn’t aware that some fans had left before half-time, but I suppose the ones who did stay got their money’s worth after half-time having been hanging off their seats for a while. We knew we had to show a bit of fight and character and, if we managed to pull a goal back early in the second half, we could do something.”
While McGivern said that “words were exchanged” at half-time, first goalscorer Harris had a more colloquial explanation. Fenlon, he explained, “went radge”.
“The manager just told us that we hadn’t turned up,” the teenager said. “We knew that ourselves. We didn’t get out of first gear. We knew we had to come out better and get the next goal.
“At 3-0 down, I turned round and some of the fans were leaving. It does put a doubt in your head, but there’s good spirit in this team and we knew after talking about it at half-time that we could come back.
“I’d had a couple of shots before my goal. The keeper pulled off a good save with the second one, so I just tried my luck again and thankfully it paid off.”
Harris attended last year’s final as a fan, along with his father, who died of a brain haemorrhage a month later, aged just 53. “I’m sure my dad will be proud of me,” he said. “I thought about him as soon as I scored.
“The win is the most important thing, but I hope my personal performance makes him proud as well. I was with my dad supporting the team last year along with a few of the boys. It wasn’t the day everyone wanted, but we’re there again this year and can hopefully turn it around.
“We’re looking forward to the final now. After the final last year and the first half here, hopefully we’ve learned our lessons. You don’t want to be doing that every week. Hopefully we’ll put in a much better performance in the final.
“The man-of-the-match champagne was for Leigh Griffiths but he gave it to me, which was good of him. He picked the ball up at the right time and put it in the net. His goal gave us a massive lift – thankfully we didn’t have to go through penalties.”
And if it had gone to a shoot-out? Who can say for sure, but Hibs would have felt confident, given that, in Williams, they have the man with the best record for spot-kick saves in the SPL.