More eagerly awaited than even the final whistle in this rather drab affair was the health bulletin that was delivered post-match by Pat Fenlon, who was able to report afterwards that there were no fresh injury worries for his side.
Hibernian 1-0 Dundee
Scorers: Hibernian - Wotherspoon (79)
Referee: B Colvin
Indeed, just as pleasing for the Hibernian manager was the sight of players playing themselves into contention rather than out.
David Wotherspoon’s match-winning contribution after coming on handed Fenlon something else to consider. It was intriguing that Wotherspoon, who did not even make the squad for last season’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts, and Jorge Claros, who was named man of the match on Saturday, made such eye-catching contributions. Claros, of course, suffered humiliation upon humiliation when he was replaced in the first-half of the Hampden Park clash last May, with Hibs already trailing by two goals.
The Honduran midfielder, whose long loan spell at Hibs from Motagua expires in the summer, is now contemplating redemption at the same stadium this weekend, when Hibs return to face Celtic this time. Few would have been surprised had the player been jettisoned by Hibs shortly after last year’s final, after so inauspicious a performance in such a high-profile game.
However, his loan deal was extended in January, and, perhaps against the odds, Claros has succeeded in becoming a favourite at Easter Road for his unfussy play. He, in turn, has developed a strong affection for the Scottish game and even though he still has 15 months of his contract with Motagua to run, he is in no hurry to return home.
“Last year was a horrible game,” he recalled following Saturday’s victory. “To lose 5-1 against Hearts was terrible, so this is a really important game. After 42 minutes I was taken off. It was unbelievable, but next week is a good chance to hopefully make up for that by winning the Cup Final. Last year we went away to Ireland, but it’s better that we are staying in Edinburgh this year.
“Everybody will be close to their families and the supporters. That’s better. Last year we were away from it all in Ireland. But football is confusing. We could go to Ireland again and win the cup, but I am happier that we are staying here.”
As for his long-term plans, he added: “It’s difficult because I have a contract with my team in Honduras. I want to stay at Hibs, but it does not depend on me. If it were dependent on me, it would be no problem; I would stay here. Hopefully the president of Hibs and my club can speak and I can stay.”
Claros says he is settled in Edinburgh, although his future won’t be sorted out until after the final, and even then he has World Cup qualifying international commitments with Honduras to take care of. There is, it seems, a lot of work to be done at Easter Road in the close season, with the likes of Claros and more probably Griffiths set to depart, even though their heart might well be set on staying in Leith.
Should they leave the club, then they will be desperate to ensure that they part on better terms than those who left after performing so abjectly in last season’s final. Griffiths, it seemed, was almost trying a little too hard on Saturday, and passed up several good chances to add to his 28 goal tally for the season. This defeat of Dundee is Hibs’ third victory on the trot and sets them up well for this weekend, although Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, had left by the time Wotherspoon struck with a well-executed header after Lewis Stevenson’s cross, with 12 minutes of the match remaining. Although Dundee hadn’t offered much, Hibs huffed and puffed and looked to have run out of ideas when Wotherspoon struck.
Still, a win is a win, and Hibs are not yet good enough to be able to lightly dismiss any sort of home victory. This, incredibly, was their first league win at Easter Road this year.
With fans of both sides cheering his name, the Leigh Griffiths love-in was in full swing as the teams played out a typical end-of-season affair, though a departure from what is expected in May was the rain that fell almost continually. It made the conditions tricky and heightened the risk of an injury being picked up as the players slid across the sodden turf.
Despite the heavy pitch, 18-year-old Alex Harris, who made way for Wotherspoon after 75 minutes, also managed to catch the eye. The young midfielder could be as vital to a Hibs success on Sunday as Griffiths. It’s fair to say that, as a team, Hibs will need to be more dynamic than they were here, as well as a lot more clinical if they are to finally lift the famous old trophy.