LIKE pupils who didn’t apply themselves – through a combination of larking around, gazing out the window and generally sub-standard work – these Hibernian players had been kept back after the end of the term.
While others got to relax and let their hair down – or in the case of former Hibees Leigh Griffiths and Anthony Stokes, book those long-promised hair transplants – Easter Road’s chronic under-performers had to stay behind for one more exam to see if they could avoid being put back a year.
And still they couldn’t do it. Couldn’t save themselves even with a two-nil lead from the away leg of this playoff. Two-nil – the equivalent of getting to see the test paper beforehand. The long-suffering faithful are only too well aware that Hibs are perfectly capable of cocking up from promising positions such as yesterday. But this was a new low.
Relegation is theirs. Remember when the top six was nearly theirs? Jings, remember around Christmas-time when Europe was being talked about as theirs? What a plummet this has been. In the old, old days of Edinburgh tenement life, such a plummet would have been greeted by a cry of “Gardyloo!” We got no warning yesterday, although the dread signs had been there for some weeks.
No top-flight football for Edinburgh for the first time in history. That’s really something. What should happen on 19 September? Is it too late for the capital to request the insertion of an opt-out question come the independence referendum so its citizens – those with still a vague interest in football – can devolve from the rest of Scotland into a little, fusty Premiership-less corner of embarrassment?
Well, Hearts fans aren’t embarrassed about being relegated. They can – in the way supporters, bless them, always do – find ways to call 2013-14 a victory, or at least a season where hope was salvaged from the despair into which they were plunged by a man who knows a bit about submarines but not much about football. But Hibs – not the fans but the team – should be embarrassed. Truly, madly, deeply so.
Before this piece dives into mawkish Hibee solipsism, let me say that Hamilton Accies thoroughly deserved their win and their reclaimed top-flight status. They played cleverly yesterday and, crucially, they played bravely. Hibs were knicker-wettingly petrified. Without doing anything horribly wrong, they never came within a mile – no, the 26 miles of the just-run Edinburgh marathon – of doing anything right.
Late in regulation time, one moment down in the corner – Famous Five Stand and, yes, in that stirringly-named structure they’ll be watching Championship football next season, too – summed up how the game ebbed and flowed. Ebbed away from Hibs, flowed Accies’ way. Alex Harris, the young hero winger of last season, looked all set to win a corner, a throw-in at the very least. But Ziggy Gordon emerged with the ball. Refusing to panic, he actually nutmegged Harris. And another Hamilton attack was under way.
Poor Harris’s form of late has been so abject that many fans would rather he had been put out of misery and sent on his summer break early, to return next season having hopefully rediscovered the sparkle which got Hibs to last season’s Scottish Cup final. He had been dropped to the bench for this game, only to be called into action early. There then followed the sub’s worst nightmare when you are replaced yourself.
But Harris, and Sam Stanton and other youngsters who have turned out intermittently, were not to blame for the drastic events of yesterday and recent weeks. There are players with far more experience – players who have been at Manchester United and Manchester City and have won cups – that will, as a puffy-faced Liam Craig said afterwards, will have to ask themselves: Did we do enough? The captain is among them and at least he knows this. The answer is a big fat no.
Earlier the large crowd – including 1000 Hamilton fans armed with streamers and a giant inflatable banana – had arrived at the stadium thoroughly drookit. By then it was sunny, the weather deciding to add some schizophrenia to the weird amalgam of emotions already swirling around. Do we cheer or grump? Is a 2-0 lead something to shout about when it’s a relegation playoff and we never expected to be in this position?
Inside the ground, under the main stand, there was an almost knackered atmosphere. It definitely felt like the end of term. Rooms normally busy with corporate bustle and banter were quiet. In one, two waitresses were able to sit down for a cup of tea and a natter. Farther along, Rod Petrie could be seen climbing the main stairs. His was a slow trudge and a weary one. The chairman resembled the headmaster checking the window catches before shutting the place down for summer and – oh joy – finally being able to get away from it all.
But the Hibs fans should have known better. They should have realised in this season, when absolutely nothing could be taken for granted – not their “big club” status, not the Jambo relegation party, not anything – that taunting Jason Scotland would only invite trouble. One man couldn’t carry, couldnae carry Scotland, one man, two men, three men … Oh really? Well, he turned Michael Nelson pretty easily, slotted his goal with aplomb. Ryan McGivern had been the chief culprit seconds earlier with a sloppy clearance.
Suddenly the nerves were jangling again. Suddenly it was raining again, the thunderstorms preceded by analmighty crack of thunder that surely caused David Wotherspoon’s baby to burst into tears. Still at least the St Johnstone midfielder, watching his old team, hadn’t brought the Scottish Cup with him. That would have been just too cruel.
Hamilton pretty much controlled the rest of the match. You even wondered if they controlled the timing of their equaliser to further discombobulate Hibs. Did they have a Sergio Ramos? Step forward, Anthony Andreu. In the shootout, first-leg hero Jason Cummings missed. There was a certain inevitability about that. The rush to acclaim him the new hero had been too hasty. But when you’re Hibs you’re desperate.
On the walk home from Easter Road last night, past parks and residential gardens, everything was fragrant. The combination of fierce rain and equally fierce sun all afternoon had worked its magic. A sweet end, then, to a truly terrible day.