TWO goals in six minutes gave Hibs victory in this League Cup- tie and ended Aberdeen’s winning run in domestic competition. Both efforts came in the final nine minutes of a match that had been perfectly balanced and seemed destined for extra time, but, with a desire to upset the odds and prove people wrong, Hibs displayed the will to settle matters before the 90 minutes was up.
It was a stunning Jason Cummings’ strike from the edge of the box which proved the breakthrough and sent the striker into a frenzy.
The second came from the man who replaced him, Dominique Malonga. He picked up the ball just inside the Aberdeen half and, with Aberdeen chasing the game, he meandered through their rearguard before beating the keeper. That was three minutes from time and signalled a post-match rendition of Sunshine on Leith, a sure sign that the home contingent were pleased with what they had witnessed.
Fresh from Great Britain’s Davis Cup success, Jamie Murray was in the stands supporting Hibs and he is proving a good guy to side with when it comes to winning cup-ties. After all, few gave Hibs much hope of coming through this one and some will have even dismissed the idea that they would still be in it at half-time. But not only were the stifling Aberdeen at that stage, they were looking comfortable and confident as they tried to plot a way to break the deadlock themselves.
Cup-ties will always produce surprises, something these clubs could certainly attest to, and, in the programme notes, the fans were reminded of a previous League Cup meeting between this pair back in 1998. Hibs were trying to negotiate a way back to the top flight that season as well, making Aberdeen firm favourites. But it was the Leith side who won. Last night history repeated itself.
But, if the Hibs fans were encouraged by that trip down memory lane prior to kick-off, their hopes were lifted further by a first-half display that showed little difference between the sides.
Aberdeen have started the domestic campaign looking assured and determined. Eight straight wins in the Premiership mens they are the team on a pedestal, looking down at the rest of Scottish football and, quite rightly, earning plaudits for it.
But they were unsettled by the enforced early switch after Willo Flood failed to run off a knock, meaning a 16th-minute rejigging of personnel as Peter Pawlett came on in his place. Ten minutes later, another change was required as the influential Graeme Shinnie hobbled off. Ryan McLaughlin was the substitute, slotting into right back, with Shay Logan switching to the left.
Unlikely to admit the loftiest of their ambitions publically, privately Derek McInnes are undoubtedly aiming to hold onto that elevated status at the top of the Premiership table as the campaign sees itself out, but such is the confidence and so keen are the aspirations, they are unlikely to see an extended run in both the domestic cups as an unwelcome distraction.
The same could be said of their hosts. The priority is promotion but not to the exclusion of cup dreams, which was evident in the way they battled throughout this League Cup third-round tie.
Hibs had the bit between their teeth as the match developed. In the sixth minute, Cummings curled a shot on target but it was held by Danny Ward. The goalkeeper was under pressure three minutes later as a muddle in the Aberdeen ranks saw the ball bounce up over Ward but trundled wide.
At the other end, Adam Rooney demanded Mark Oxley’s involvement before Darren McGregor had to step in to clear a David Goodwillie cutback. Liam Henderson then got in the way of an Ash Taylor header.
The game and the respective fortunes fluctuated as both sides tried to keep the ball down and keep play moving, and, while there were attempts at goal, they were devoid of either power or precision.
By half-time things were looking more promising for Alan Stubbs. His men had looked solid at the back and he was the manager possessed of greater options. While his counterpart had only one substitution left, he had three more throws of the dice.
The second half was as keenly contested, with vague penalty shouts at both ends and efforts which got close but never close enough. Not until the final few minutes and it was one of Stubbs’ starters who delivered in the end with a goal worthy of winning a cup-tie, and, when he did make his substitution, Malonga weighed in with the kind of contribution that allowed his colleagues and the support to exhale and enjoy the remainder of the match.
Hibernian: Oxley, McGregor, Hanlon, Fontaine, Gray, McGeouch, McGinn, Henderson (Carmichael 61), Stevenson, Boyle (Bartley 89), Cummings (Malonga 85). Unused subs: Reguero, Stanton, Dunsmore, Martin
Aberdeen: Ward, Logan, Taylor, Considine, Shinnie (McLaughlin 26), McGinn, Flood (Pawlett 16), Jack, Mclean, Rooney, Goodwillie (Parker 83). Unused subs: Brown, Smith, Robson, Quinn