HIBERNIAN manager Pat Fenlon insisted last night that his team’s victory against Hearts should not be regarded as revenge for their 5-1 humiliation in the Scottish Cup final in May. Hibs beat their Edinburgh rivals 1-0 in the fourth round cup-tie at Easter Road thanks to a late strike by David Wotherspoon, ending a run of 12 games without a win against Hearts.
For the holders, it was also the first time in 33 years that they had lost to their city rivals in the knockout competition. Since 1979 Hearts had won in 1994, 2006 and 2009 before this year’s triumph, but once they went behind yesterday they never looked like claiming the equaliser that would have forced the tie into a replay.
As the Hibs fans still celebrated outside the ground, Fenlon was asked whether the result was about revenge and he replied with an emphatic negative. “No, I don’t,” he said. “I think it’s about the steps we’re trying to make and rebuilding the club back to where we should be.
“Today gives people belief. It gives the supporters belief. It gives the players massive belief.
“It’s a slow process rebuilding it. It’s a victory over Hearts, so it means a bit more for everyone, but from my end of it, it’s another step in the right direction.
“We weren’t fantastic today. But last season we would have lost that game, there’s no doubt about it. We don’t look like losing too many matches at the moment. I thought the back four today were excellent. I don’t think Hearts had loads of chances, same as ourselves.”
When looking forward to the game last week, Fenlon had reflected on that cup final, in which he was sent to the stand late in the game for an angry gesture aimed at the Hearts support. Having seen his team fail to attract big crowds for home games this season despite being near the top of the SPL, he has become especially aware of how long it could take for Hibs to persuade all their fans to return to Easter Road.
“It was special for the supporters,” he continued. “At Hampden, with a few minutes to go when the Hibs end was empty, was disappointing. It was great today to see them enjoying themselves. That’s probably more of what it was about than anything else today.
“It wasn’t a great spectacle, but we’ve won and that’s all that really matters, I suppose, is winning football matches. I’m delighted for the supporters today, particularly. It’s a good day for the Hibs fans and it’s long overdue. It was a scrappy enough game and Hearts probably shaded parts of it. There wasn’t a lot of chances at either end.
“We’ve probably played games over that three years where we’ve done well. I’m not sure, I haven’t seen them all – so you take the good fortune when it’s coming for you.”
The main concern for Fenlon after the game was the injury which forced Scotland’s top scorer Leigh Griffiths to leave the field with an ankle knock not long into the second half. The striker hobbled back on to the pitch, one leg heavily bandaged, at full-time, and it is not yet clear whether he will miss any forthcoming games.
“He went off on a stretcher and I thought he was in serious trouble,” addede Fenlon. “Then he came on at the end celebrating. He’s a bit of a Lazarus, Leigh. We’ll see how he is in the morning. He’s obviously in good form down there. He’s had a little problem with his ankle over the last three or four weeks.
“It’s a big day for him as well. He is a supporter of the club so it probably means more to him, and to the other few players who are Hibs fans, than it does to anybody. I think the big plus today is the crowd. We got maybe 7,500 when we played them in the first game, and we had more than 12,000. So that’s a big jump. The important thing now is can we entice these people back on a regular basis?”
Wotherspoon’s strike was credited to Zaliukas by some reports, but the midfielder, for whom this was a first victory over Hearts, insisted the goal belonged to him.
“I’m claiming it,” he said. “It was a shot. If you look at the replay I thought I hit it quite well. I just remember it hitting the back of the net and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
“It was such a great feeling so late in the game. Unbelievable.”
Asked if he thought the win was compensation for the cup final, Wotherspoon replied in similar vein to his manager. “It’s a long way to go for that, but it’s one back on them,” he added. “I’m sure there’s many to come as well.
“The cup final [in which he did not take part] was a disappointing day for everybody involved with Hibs, and it was a case of turning the corner. It’s brilliant to get a victory and get into the next round. It’s been a long time, so hopefully we can keep it going.”