THERE were only a couple of minutes left and all the team’s efforts – some of them highly creative and deserving of the top division – looked like they would be in vain. So the fans thought they’d show their appreciation and burst into spontaneous applause. Guess what happened then? Hibernian scored.
There wasn’t enough time for a second goal but it made for a moving end to the game, rounded off by a three-stand blast of Sunshine on Leith. Close to where old Hibee heroes John Brownlie, Tony Higgins and George Stewart were sitting some even older supporters, who God knows have endured enough poignant moments at this stadium, were in tears.
“They know we did our best and that we managed to play some great football”Farid El Alagui
Farid El Alagui appreciated the gesture. He called it “class”. Even in the frenzy of that final push, the Hibs players registered what the fans were doing. “I was surprised by it, to be honest with you,” the Moroccan striker said. “I could see them standing up and clapping and I was kind of humbled. It’s not often you get that, especially when a team is not going to be successful, and that must have been a huge disappointment to the fans.”
This was another Easter Road play-off heartache for Hibs but it felt different. “When we came back last July [after relegation] it was difficult to play in front of this crowd,” added El Alagui. “But I think we’ve turned a lot of things around. Okay, we didn’t get promoted but many good things have come out of the season. The fans have been through a lot but I think they’re excited to see us play now and I can’t wait until we come back out in front of them again next season and do our best to go up.
“What they did today, I think, was them saying ‘Thank you, you did your best and we know that’. It showed they know their team and they know football. They know we did our best and that we managed to play some great football. They were class.”
Exactly who in green and white will be back in front of the fans? Already some among the faithful are fretting about the prospect of Scott Allan – the star man once again – being prised away from them. “Who we manage to keep will be key,” admitted El Alagui.
“Scott has had a great season so I think a lot of interest will come for him. But I hope we manage to keep him and have a strong team. Okay, it’s the Championship again but playing for Hibernian is something different and players must realise how lucky they are to be at this club. Sometimes the grass is not greener somewhere else.
“Scott arrived here as a young player who went down to England and came back with some things to prove. He’s shown how good he is, but that is also thanks to the manager who gave him this stage to perform and got him ready to play his best. And I think there is still more to come from him. He can be even better.”
El Alagui thought the games with Rangers came down to “small details”. The Ibrox club scored “two clinical goals” in the first leg to buttress them for Leith. “We tried our best, particularly in this game. We were at them from the first minute. There was just a little bit missing.
“Maybe at the start of the season we didn’t have enough time for preparation. Some players came in late but once the team was settled we were outstanding. We’re very disappointed not to go up, especially with the type of play we showed. Really we have nothing to be jealous of Hearts or Rangers for.”
Apart from, respectively, promotion and near-promotion, but El Alagui was determined to find some consolation in the near miss.
“This has been a great team to play for,” he said.