ASKING a Hibernian manager if this could finally be his team’s year to win the Scottish Cup is a bit like poking an animal with a sharp stick through the bars of its cage.
You feel guilty about indulging in such gratuitous cruelty, but it’s just so tempting.
Anyway, nothing lasts forever, even barren runs in knockout competitions stretching back over a century. And Hibs’ cup games this season have been almost like a mirror image of their 2012 campaign, encouraging their fans – the more optimistic ones, at least – to believe that the natural order of things could indeed be turned upside down.
Hibs lost the final to Hearts last May: in December they beat their Edinburgh rivals in the fourth round. Last year a semi-final win over Aberdeen preceded that 5-1 thrashing: yesterday they beat Craig Brown’s team.
Now they have drawn a third team from last season’s cup run, Kilmarnock. If they win that one, there the symmetry will end, because Ayr United and Cowdenbeath, the other two clubs they defeated a year ago, have already been knocked out.
But Hibs can dream, and so can Pat Fenlon. He smiled wrily after Gary Deegan’s goal had taken his team into the last eight, yet still answered in positive fashion. “Hopefully,” the Hibs boss said when it was suggested to him that the draw was a good omen. “As long as it doesn’t end the same way.
“We want to get there. We’ve got another really tough quarter-final, and if you get through you’ve got another tough game no matter who you play. But it is something we want to do, definitely. We’ve got a belief in ourselves that we can get to the final.”
Fenlon accepted there was little in yesterday’s game, but as well as praising Deegan, he also credited goalkeeper Ben Williams for a number of fine saves, including one from the penalty spot. “We’ve played really well against Aberdeen here [earlier this season] and got beaten. We played all right today, very little in the game, and won it. It was a fantastic goal, and the penalty save was different class.”
Williams saved from Scott Vernon, a former team-mate at Colchester, and he offered his condolences. “It’s not a nice way for a friend to bow out of the cup,” he said. “It was one of those games where everything goes your way. I guessed the right way on the penalty and the rebound came off the post nicely for me. There’s a bit of homework in it as well. I was fairly confident that Scott would go that way, and fortunately he did.”
It cannot all be good fortune, though. Williams has now saved four of the six penalties he has faced this season, while one of the other two went over the bar.
Aberdeen’s Russell Anderson credited Williams with some excellent saves, but still argued his team should have won the game. “I can’t believe we’ve lost that game,” he said. “I think they’ve had two shots on target and we’re out the cup.
“There was a five or ten-minute spell at the start of the second half where they managed to get their goal. Other than that I thought we were the better team.”
Manager Craig Brown shared that analysis. “Hibs had two shots on target and we bombarded them in the last 20 minutes or so,” he said. “Their goalkeeper being man of the match tells the story of the match. His excellence has kept Hibs in the cup.
That’s two penalties he’s saved from us in the last two weeks. These two kicks have transformed the season for Aberdeen. We would have been fourth in the league last Sunday, and we’d still be in the cup looking for a replay at least.”