Less than 12 months after probably the most humiliating day of their lives, dare Hibs fans begin to dream again?
Every Scottish Cup campaign since 1902 has begun with the fervent hope that, finally, this might just be “Hibs’ year.”
Time and again it has ended in tears to the point some have simply accepted their fate, that they’ll never see that particular piece of silverware paraded down Easter Road.
For the vast majority, though, the belief that one day their suffering will at last be over, lives on. Today it is very much alive, Pat Fenlon’s side a mere 90 minutes away from their second successive final, an opportunity to salve the collective pain which has accumulated down through the past 100 years and more, a hurt which hit unspeakable depths on that fateful day last May.
Whether or not this does, in fact, turn out to be “Hibs’ year” remains to be seen with, no doubt, the clever money riding on Celtic, Dundee United or even Falkirk, the other three semi-finalists remaining in the competition, given the love-hate relationship the Capital club has with the Scottish Cup. But for Leigh Griffiths, the hat-trick hero of this quarter-final victory over Kilmarnock, it’s very much a case of ‘if you don’t buy a ticket you don’t win the lottery’.
As a life-long Hibs fan who was one of those who wore the green and white shirt on May 19 at Hampden, the striker has suffered more than most, but as he looked forward to today’s draw to determine who faces who next month, he insisted that, despite what history might say, the more often the club get to the final the greater the chance of that long-running hoodoo being brought to an end.
He said: “The likes of Paul Hanlon and me, as fans, know what is means for Hibs to win the Cup. We humiliated ourselves last year in probably the biggest game that’s ever going to take place in Hibs-Hearts derbies. It was the worst feeling ever, without doubt. We embarrassed ourselves but the club most. Now we have a chance to rectify that as we are only two steps away.
“We have to keep knocking on the door. This will be our second semi-final in two years and I don’t know the last time Hibs did that so we are looking forward to it. We’ll have a massive game in the semi-final but hopefully we can go on and take that one step further and win the Cup.”
If history may weigh against them, Fenlon’s players and their supporters may well be entitled to dream having knocked holders Hearts, Aberdeen and now Kilmarnock out, this victory at Rugby Park coming at the end of a pulsating tie, a match which simply carried on where these two clubs had left off last midweek with those three goals in those crazy final minutes which saw them draw 2-2.
This time round there were six goals, the game the exact opposite from that encounter at Easter Road as it was Hibs who twice took the lead only to be pegged back by Killie before the irrepressible Griffiths, with his first ever senior hat-trick, secured what, at the end of the day, was a well deserved win.
Okay, there was a helping hand on more than one occasion thanks to dreadful blunders by Kenny Shiels’ side but Kilmarnock simply had no answer to the threat of Griffiths who made it seven goals in his last five matches as he took his tally for the season to 22.
Error No. 1 came as Jeroen Tesselaar saw his clearance intercepted by the head of David Wotherspoon, the midfielder catching the Dutch star in no-man’s land as he nodded it into the path of Griffiths to sweep past Kilmarnock goalkeeper Cammy Bell.
James Dayton equalised as Ben Williams couldn’t hold a vicious low drive from William Gros which took an awkward bounce just in front of him before Error No. 2 put Hibs ahead again. This time Bell and Momo Sissoko were culpable, the goalkeeper putting his team-mate in trouble with a poorly judged throw – Shiels insisting on building play from the back – only for the defender to return the “favour” by knocking the ball back to him at pace. Griffiths, as ever, was alive to the possibilities, nicking in to take the ball off Bell’s toes only to be felled by his opponent. It was a clear penalty but Matt Done, following up, thumped it home, possibly saving the goalkeeper, who was booked for his action, a red card.
Kilmarnock then got a penalty of their own as Lewis Stevenson was harshly judged to have nudged Paul Heffernan in the back as they jostled for the rebound after Williams had parried another Dayton shot. Referee John Beaton actually waved play on before his assistant Andy Tait indicated otherwise, Heffernan himself stepping up to level for a second time.
Error No. 3, however, came just as everyone was beginning to think of a replay, Sissoko seemingly having chaperoned James McPake’s long ball back to Bell only for the goalkeeper to spill it, Griffiths reacting in an instant to sweep it home. Kilmarnock’s propensity for hitting the self destruct button didn’t end there, though, Ross Barbour sent off for tugging back Griffiths as he set off once again in the direction of the Killie goal. Error No. 4 came from the resulting free-kick, Gros inexplicably throwing up an arm to block Griffiths’ effort leaving the on-loan Wolves star to score his sixth from the spot this season to leave the 4000 or so Hibs fan behind Bell’s goal in ecstasy.
There was, naturally, no chance of anyone else getting near the ball although Griffiths let everyone in on a secret afterwards. He said: “I’d taken four in training on Saturday and missed three of them. I’d taken all of Hibs penalties this season and scored them all. If I miss someone else can have the ball.”
However, while Killie may have been the authors of their own downfall to some extent, there was no taking away from a commanding performance from Hibs and Griffiths in particular, Fenlon admitting his striker was “a special talent,” one with whom most teams will struggle to cope when, as now, he is at the top of his game.
Amid the euphoric scenes which followed the final whistle, substitute sbstitute striker Eoin Doyle tossing the match ball to Griffiths to ensure he got his memento, it was left to Fenlon to try to calm everyone. While delighted with his team’s performance and enjoying the “great feeling” knowing his side were in the semi-final draw, Fenlon insisted it would be business as usual from today as he begins to prepare for Sunday’s derby with Hearts.
He said: “We are just thinking of Hearts, that’s the next game and that’s all we can worry about. It’s a big game and we will make sure we are prepared for it.”
Griffiths, too, insisted that as much as he and his team-mates would enjoy the moment, all eyes were now on Sunday. He said: “We have massive games coming up and we want to finish in the top six.”