At half-time at Stark’s Park, Hibernian fans of a certain age must have thought: “We’ve seen this movie before.” Fancied to win, their team had been poor. In the cold and the wet of the Scottish Cup in January, the opposition had sensed Hibs’ unease, almost certainly caused by the weight of non-history, not having won the trophy for 114 years. Raith Rovers believed they could make it 115.
Even Dylan McGeouch, not a Hibee for very long, was familiar with the script. “I think sometimes when this club have played like that we’ve ended up getting knocked out of the cup,” he said. “We had a word with ourselves at half-time and the manager had a word, too.
“I think now we’ve got togetherness and steel. We’ve also got the creativity to get us goals. We knew we’d been sloppy in the first half. But once we got going I didn’t think the result was in doubt.”
Hibs are competing on three fronts: the Championship, the League Cup with a semi-final against St Johnstone upcoming, and the you-know-what. All footballers like maximum involvement but McGeouch feels Hibs are now better-equipped to make serious challenges. “When other teams want to dig in and fight we can do that. When they want to sit in we can open them up. We can mix it up when we need to. We believe in our ability and the quality we’ve got in the squad.”
The league is the priority but the Saints clash at Tynecastle gives Hibs the chance to get back to Hampden while the Scottish Cup, the midfielder agreed, is “massive” for the club. “As a player you want to be involved in every competition. The main objective is to get promotion but we’ll take the cups as well,” he said. “We had a great run in the Scottish last year and will be looking to do the same this season. We were bitterly disappointed to lose that semi-final [against Falkirk]. We’ve learned from that disappointment and will use it to our advantage against St Johnstone and try to get to a final.
“Every competition we look to win it. With the squad we’ve got we’re confident. We showed that earlier this season when we beat Aberdeen [in the League Cup]. They were flying at the time but they came to our place and we put them out. So hopefully we can keep our heads down in the league and, when the cups come along, do well in them.”
On Saturday, Raith – who had dumped Hibs out of the cup two years ago, in 1998 and back in the pomp of the Famous Five, winning a second replay 4-1 – thought they were about to do it again. But the rhythm and control eventually established by McGeouch and Co enabled substitute Darren McGregor and Dominique Malonga to score with scorching right-foot strikes within two minutes of each other.
McGeough shrugged off the idea he might be in the form of his career right now, simply stressing how much he was enjoying regular football after only playing “bits and bobs” with Celtic. The player agreed the Celtic experience, where winning was a way of life, had been valuable to him, but he pointed out that manager Alan Stubbs had it too. “He had an unbelievable career with top teams, playing under that pressure, and that is feeding into our team. Now we’re all demanding high standards of ourselves.”