Mixu Paatelainen became all too familiar with the draining effects of Hibs’ notorious Scottish Cup jinx during his spells as both a player and manager with the club.
As Dundee United boss, he will be delighted to see the hoodoo extended into a 115th year by overseeing a defeat of the Easter Road side in tomorrow’s Hampden semi-final.
Paatelainen, whose own Scottish Cup disappointments in green and white included a third round humiliation at the hands of Stirling Albion in 1999 and final heartbreak against Celtic two years later, believes it has become an annual test of character for Hibs.
“It was talked about a lot when I was at Hibs,” reflected Paatelainen. “Of course it plays on players and fans’ minds and anyone associated with the club because it is such a long time.
“I don’t think it adds any more pressure, because if you are a strong character you say ‘let’s be heroes’ or ‘let’s break the hoodoo’. It’s a chance to put yourself on the map. If you are a weak character it becomes ‘Oh no, we haven’t won it for 100 years’ or whatever. I don’t know if it means Hibs are under more pressure to win on Saturday, you would have to ask them.
“We also want to reach the final and do well and possibly lift the trophy so that brings pressure on its own. Everytime we play we want to do well and win.
“The history for Hibs as a club in the Scottish Cup has not been too good. One day it will change. They are a big club and this season they have done well in the Championship. They are third at the moment and are fighting for promotion and showed us when they beat us in the League Cup this season that they are a good team. They can win any match they play.”
If Hibs’ mental resilience will be tested tomorrow, Paatelainen insists he has no doubts about that quality as far as United are concerned, despite their struggles at the foot of the Premiership which currently see them eight points adrift with just five games remaining.
The big Finn regards last month’s Scottish Cup quarter-final victory at Ross County, when United came from behind with ten men to win 3-2, as compelling evidence of their temperament.
“If ever there was a time for a team to show character, that was it,” he said. “I don’t think our mental toughness and physicality has been questioned recently. Early on in the season, it was lacking but we have developed immensely on that front. We have been struggling in certain games but the spirit and character has brought us level.
“There’s no problem with that. The issue is sometimes with the quality of the play and staying awake in certain situations. That’s what has caused the inconsistency this season. That is something that in the short term is hard to correct, but we are working very hard on it.”
Paatelainen knows his players must also atone for one of their weakest performances of the season when they were swept aside 3-0 by Hibs at Easter Road in a League Cup tie in November.
“We will remember that black night and we don’t feel too good about it,” added Paatelainen. “Hibs were by far the better team that night and we didn’t play well. It was a poor, poor night and Hibs deserved it. I’m sure they are confident because of that night. They will remember how they attacked and how many chances they had. We have a tough opponent ahead of us again on Saturday and it won’t be easy.
“But this is a huge match for us, a chance to get to the Scottish Cup final, which is always a wonderful day. Any player wants to play in cup finals and win trophies. Winning this would give us a chance.
“We don’t think about the league at all at this moment, we’re fully concentrated on the Scottish Cup.”
Paatelainen has been boosted by the news Paul Paton is available to face Hibs after it was feared a recurrence of a knee injury might rule the key midfielder out for the rest of the season.
“That is definitely massive for us,” he added. “Paul has been a key player defensively, a real leader by example and leader vocally as well.
“Obviously we need to manage his situation, look at how much he trains during the week, trying not to put too much stress on his knee. But that’s no problem, we’re coming to the end of the season anyway. It is possibly something he’ll need to get fixed during the summer. The doctors will decide that.”