Aidan Smith: Hibs can beat Rangers in semis with silly haircuts and scruffy trundlers - no pressure, Jack

Someone somewhere, in the build-up to today’s semi-final, has almost certainly called Jack Ross a big-game hunter. They may even have transposed his head onto the body of an actual hunter, so that the always nattily-dressed football manager is gunning for Rangers in a camouflage safari jacket and matching shorts with a fierce crease, topped off with a pith helmet.

Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor celebrate yet another Hibs League Cup semi-final victory over Rangers
Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Derek Riordan and Garry O'Connor celebrate yet another Hibs League Cup semi-final victory over Rangers

If so, I hope Ross can allow himself a chuckle over his muesli, before getting down to the - very - serious business of this tie. For big-game hunter is what he is. He’s seeking victory in one of those matches which define seasons and careers.

After a Wembley defeat with Sunderland in the League One playoff final, his Hibernian last season suffered three crushing Hampden disappointments within the space of seven months.

Two semi-finals and a final. For a club that finished third in the Premiership, all seemed highly winnable. Failing that, the first one gone, Hibs would be much the more determined next time, yes? For what is it football folk always say immediately following a defeat? “We’ll dust ourselves down and go again.” Quick opportunities to redeem, then.

Hibs, though, rather than remove the dust, seemed to apply quick-drying cement to themselves in a bizarre - though not by the traditions of “Hibsing it” - act of footballing self-flagellation.

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The fans still can’t quite comprehend this: each performance turned out worse than the preceding one. In the Scottish Cup final against St Johnstone they simply failed to turn up. At least in the League Cup, same opposition, Jamie Murphy had contrived a hideous six-yard-box miss. Next time the Hibees never got close enough to repeat the howler. Supporters were forced to conclude that over the sequence - offering a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for silverware with the Old Firm nowhere - the players had learned precisely … nothing.

And now it’s Rangers. Except … Hibs love playing them in League Cup semi-finals. Ross must draw encouragement from history. League form has been miserable recently, but rather than the four straight defeats he has to get the players thinking about the club’s famous quartet of wins at this stage of the competition.

I witnessed all of them, from Turnbull’s Tornadoes to the Haircut 100 team. I’ve been thinking what the current side could learn from these wins and one thing resonates - courage.

Rangers won the very first semi-final against Hibs, in the very first League Cup in 1946-47 – 3-1 at Hampden in front of 125,154. After that though it was all Hibs. The next one would be in 1972-73. By then Willie Waddell, one of Rangers’ goalscorers in the earlier game, was their manager, and as Hibs threatened to break up the Glasgow duopoly with the Ibrox club the most likely to suffer, The Deedle is supposed to have warned Easter Road chairman Tom Hart after the Gers had lost one Kung Fu-style contest: “Your lot better invest in steel shinpads for next time.”

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The current team should note that the Tornadoes went into their semi having been beaten by Rangers at home in the league just four days before. A blip in a glorious half-season - Hibs have often been bonnie from August to December - which harvested 100 goals by Christmas, though only a single John Brownlie rocket was required at Hampden.

By 1985-86 one of the Tornadoes was the Hibs manager - John Blackley. Personnel would continue to return to this fixture. Maybe from the four semis, the ’85-’86 Hibees - Alan Sneddon, Kevin McKee, Ally Brazil - are the least celebrated. The tie was home and away but before the first game Hibs had lost three in the league in a row including an Edinburgh derby and a 5-0 battering from Celtic, which just goes to show that cups are their own special thing.

That was one of those campaigns where my father and I invested in season tickets, something which rarely resulted in a garden of earthly delights, but the 2-0 first-leg win was a highlight. Rangers threw everything at Hibs in the return including an impressive collection of mullets, but Alan Rough kept them out.

In 1991-92 Rangers boasted an impressive collection of internationalists. Hibs had another daft goalkeeper, John Burridge; a striker in Keith Wright expert at scruffy trundlers; and a wee guy in the No 7 shirt in Mickey Weir no less crucial to the outcome than Alex Edwards had been in ’72-’73.

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The habit of central characters returning later continued with Bobby Williamson, a vanquished Ranger in ’85-’86, leading Hibs to the semi of 2003-04.

This was the game which produced the famous photograph of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor et al charging together, faces beaming. They were rushing from the halfway line to greet penalty shootout hero Daniel Andersson but could, I suppose, have just spotted Boyzone or Westlife emerging from a stage-door.

That was the team dubbed a “boyband” by Neil Lennon: striking haircuts, good intentions but ultimately rather frivolous. While they failed in the final that season, most were still there when the League Cup was lifted in 2007.

In the over-populated fitba meeja of right now, and at least before the recent slump, there’s been a tendency to indulge the current Hibs side. They are flattering to deceive like in Broony’s era but must similarly produce unless all that sofa chit-chat is going to end up no more substantial than the filling in the studio cushions.

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Martin Boyle, this could - probably should - be your moment. Jack Ross, yours too.

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