Craig Fowler looks back on a hard fought Scottish Cup quarter-final tie at Easter Road
Hibs paid for their inability to put Inverness away
Earlier in the season, when trying to predict who would come out on top in the Ladbrokes Championship title race, many Scottish football scribblers, including this one, cited Hibs’ oft-times inability to kill off games as a portent reason why they would come second to Rangers. In actually fact, this made zero impact on the title race. Hibs have never allowed a lesser side back into the game when they’re in command. Although, the first equaliser they’ve allowed in the last 30 minutes all season may have delivered a tremendous blow to their Scottish Cup aspirations.
Against stronger sides in this country it doesn’t matter how much you keep them at arms length - which Hibs definitely did in the hour prior to the goal - there’s always the chance they could show a bit of quality to grab an equaliser. It was a harsh lesson for Hibs to learn.
The old cliches are often true
Goals change games. It shouldn’t need stated. However, the influence of a goal on a game, or even a season, is often be underrated when analysing after the fact - and there was no doubting its impact today.
If you’d told any fan, Inverness or Hibs, that Caley Thistle would win the match at 1-0, they would have looked at you with the sort of disconcert usually reserved for talkative drunks at bus stops. While the away side didn’t go on to win the match, it seemed a real possibility once they brought the scores level with a goal out of nothing, and finished the match as the team on top.
Hibs (arguably) benefitted from an enforced substitute
Alan Stubbs even admitted afterwards that it took Hibs a while to fully get to grips with Inverness, who took many by surprise with a 3-4-1-1 formation designed to match-up man-for-man in midfield with the Hibs diamond.
As part of this system, Jordan Roberts followed Dylan McGeouch across the park. It was the kind of old school man marking job you don’t see too often these days. While McGeouch’s injury - a recurrence of the groin issue which threatened to keep him out of the starting Xi - will be a huge blow for Hibs going forward, in this match it may have benefitted their play.
Without a natural, experienced centre midfielder on the bench to make a like-for-like replacement, Stubbs switched to a 3-5-2 of his own. From that point until the equaliser, Inverness got little to no space in the centre of the park and couldn’t create anything in attack. It was only once they switched themselves, going to a 4-3-3, did they get back into the game.
John McGinn is the default man-of-the-match selection
McGinn deserves plaudits for his determination by refusing to let a sub-par game get him down, as he kept playing with a high intensity and willingness to drive his team forward right to the final whistle. But he wasn’t the best player on the field. He wasn’t even his own side’s best player.
That accolade, in the opinion of this writer, belongs to either Darren McGregor or David Gray. Inverness CT striker Miles Storey was a great threat in the opening 20 minutes, but every time he looked like doing something McGregor was there to cut out the threat. He then helped the rest of the back four keep the Inverness front-line quiet for a large section of the match.
Gray played his part with a cross for James Keatings to score the opener. Once Hibs made the change to a 3-5-2 he made more of an impact in an attacking sense, while always coming out on top in his one-on-one battle with Danny Williams.
Inverness CT were let down by decision making in the final third
The visitors, having thrown Hibs a curve ball with their starting formation, probably edged the opening 15 minutes on the balance of play. While Hibs should have scored during that time - how neither of David Gray’s header or Liam Fontaine’s follow up crossed the line is anyone’s guess - Inverness passed up a great opportunity to create a gilt-edged chance of their own.
Following that mad scramble, Roberts’ pass released Liam Polwarth in a two-on-one with Storey streaking alongside him through the centre. There were three choices for the young midfielder in this situation: play Storey in early; drive forward, commit the defender then cross for his team-mate, or see if the defender continued to back off and have a shot inside the penalty area. It was never a good idea to rear back his right leg and go for goal from 25 yards out. A shot which sailed well over the crossbar.
It wasn’t just Polwarth who was guilty of picking the wrong option. Storey and Roberts seemed to take it in turns to earn needless offside infringements, while Williams got in on the act shortly before the goal.
Hibs are not lacking in confidence
There were question marks over Hibs’ recent form and whether this would affect the team against top flight opposition. Instead, they were the better side over the 90 minutes and showed little hesitancy in their play. While they may not have got the result they desired on this occasion, it’s another game undefeated against Ladbrokes Premiership opponents (now six matches in total) and they’ll more than fancy their chances when Ross County and the League Cup final rolls around next Sunday.
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