Moira Gordon: Hibs rekindle 70s spirit with flair and flares

Hearts' Alexandros Tziolis, left, and Grant Holt narked each other throughout the game.
Hearts' Alexandros Tziolis, left, and Grant Holt narked each other throughout the game.
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Fed up with his underperforming players at the weekend, the Hibs head coach had said he was considering throwing Pat Stanton in for this one. The club legend, who had last turned out for the club more than 40 years ago, replied that while the spirit was willing, the body was no longer able. But spirit counts for a lot in this fixture.

And the club seemed determined to evoke the spirit of the 1970s on a night when they extended their unbeaten run in derby matches to seven – their best tally since that decade.

Back then the only flares on show were in the stands. Here the flares were thrown from the stands and they were of the smoking variety, as the Hibs fans in the West Stand tried to upstage the home supporters in the East as they exuberantly piled over the advertising hoardings to celebrate with Jason Cummings, the hero of last season’s tie, after he scored the opening goal in this one.

There were also plenty of flare ups as the desire to face Ayr United in the quarter-finals threatened to ignite something far less savoury.

It is probably safe to say that Grant Holt and Alex Tziolis will not be exchanging Christmas cards, and they narked, niggled and wrestled each other throughout, harking back to a bygone era when the sport was much more of a contact pursuit and and every challenge was crunching.

The Hearts man was visibly frustrated by the home side’s advantage and the deficiencies in the Hearts performance, while the Leith striker seemed as intent on depleting Hearts’ numbers as he was on scoring a goal as he writhed in agony more times than seemed appropriate for a big lad who likes to mix it.

But the last laugh belonged to Holt. One of three Hibs players to get on the scoresheet, the outcome proved the most effective way to antagonise both the away players and supporters.

This was a match that proved a more captivating spectacle than the past offering, at Tynecastle, and while Lennon had been unable to call on Stanton, his team selection was no less bold as he threw everything he could at it. The first game had finished without a goal but with Cummings and Holt up front, he packed the flanks with the pace of Martin Boyle and Chris Humphrey as the cup holders made an early statement of intent. Lennon had finally confessed that retaining the trophy was one of his priorities and having matched the Premiership side in Gorgie, he showed faith in the players he had verbally lashed after dropping points in the league on Saturday.

Brave and attack-minded, there was no fear in his selection, no caution and from the very start Hibs were the team on the front foot.

Pressed high and stifled by Hibs, and seemingly lacking ideas and invention, Hearts struggled to find a way to ease the pressure on themselves, let alone threaten their hosts. Every passage of play was pedestrian and seemed a preamble to something that never quite materialised.

Hibs, on the other hand, were verging on the swashbuckling and could have given the scoreline an even greater garnish had they proved a bit more clinical.

For Hearts, though, it was painful. As a club they had grown used to dominating these fixtures and dishing out derby disappointments but since that 5-1 humiliation of their city rivals in 2012, the knockout competitions have left them dealing with blow after blow and head coach Ian Cathro and his squad never looked like counterpunching.

It is a fact that Cathro’s predecessor, Robbie Neilson, was never really granted absolution after his team succumbed at the same stage of the competition last year. That allowed Hibs to go on and lift the cup, an honour that had eluded even legends like Stanton. Which is why, while they may have be happy to evoke the spirit of the 70s, they are enjoying the here and now.