Inverness hopes rest on unlikely reprieve as efficient Hibs deal with Duncan Ferguson's side in front of watching Liverpool legend
Hibs’ name is on the cup. You can take that to the bank – maybe. On past evidence, at least, a win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle means glory at Hampden come May for the Easter Road side, whose only other win here in the Scottish Cup came en route to that memorable day against Rangers in 2016.
They prevailed against Duncan Ferguson’s easy-on-the eye and very youthful Inverness side. Not even the presence of former Liverpool defender and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher could inspire the hosts to reach the last eight. Mercifully, perhaps, he did not have to negatively critique his own son James' performance on camera or even in the Inverness boardroom, where he was a guest beforehand and afterwards.
It was Carragher junior’s defensive partner Morgan Boyes who endured a nightmare moment that the Sky Sports Monday Night Football team, including Carragher and Gary Neville, would have feasted on had it occurred at a Premier League fixture.
Inverness might be nice to watch and energetic, with the starting XI boasting an average age of just 23. But whatever their qualities it’s still hard to survive a defender completely missing the ball when attempting to kick it. This was poor Boyes’ fate after 78 minutes. The on-loan Livingston defender had only been in the park for a matter of minutes after replacing Jermemiah Chilokoa-Mullen. Boyes’ misfortune was Martin Boyle’s delight. The Hibs forward scampered through to take full advantage after rounding 'keeper Mark Ridgers.
It was the defining moment. Hibs were already a goal ahead through Myziane Maolida’s deflected effort and they were looking pretty good for it, although on-loan Dundee player Cammy Kerr did hit the top of the bar with a lopping header over David Marshall that would have made it 1-1. If the ball had dropped down rather than over then substitute Aribim Pepple was waiting to prod it over the line.
The concession of the opening goal nine minutes after half time felt self-inflicted on Inverness’ part as well – or at least partly so. On-loan Everton player Sean McAllister’s loose pass on the edge of the box gifted possession to Hibs. Maolida’s eventual shot might not have hurt Inverness but a wicked deflection off Chilokoa-Mullen left Ridgers rooted to the spot.
A double substitution for Hibs at half time helped change the dynamics. Dylan Levitt replaced Luke Amos, who had struggled, and Elie Youan came on for Eliezer Mayenda further forward. “They made changes at half time but the first two goals aren’t great from our point of view, are they?” said Ferguson afterwards.
Nobody present was going to disagree. The second goal was a disaster for the hosts. Boyes found himself under a long punt forward from Nectarios Triantis but took his eye off the ball as he attempted to clear. Boyle is one of the last players anyone would want to see haring through on goal after turning round following such an unfortunate gaffe. Boyes made a heroic effort to retrieve the situation but, on a day to forget for the defender, he almost split himself in half in a collision with the post. Boyle’s finish from a tight angle rolled into the other side of the goal. The Hibs player raced off to celebrate his first club goal for two months with his team-mates by the corner flag. Boyes, meanwhile, required lengthy treatment.
At 2-0 with 12 minutes left, the tie felt done. Youan’s late tap-in from Boyle’s cross confirmed that. Substitute Aaron Doran’s even later goal, which was a fine hit from around 12 yards out, at least gave the home fans something to cheer as the temperature dropped.
There was no snow, only drizzle in the Highlands. But whatever the weather, it had the potential to be hazardous for the visitors. They dealt with the assignment very comfortably in the final analysis and managed to end a tough week on a high note, with the near 2,000 travelling support serenading the players at the end. Those being hailed included the returning Chris Cadden, who made his first appearance for eight months after surgery on a ruptured Achilles tendon.
He replaced Lewis Miller after 83 minutes. Manager Nick Montgomery led a round of applause in the away dressing-room to mark the full-back’s comeback before the match.
It was a good day for Montgomery, whose astute substitutions contributed to the victory, but he was nevertheless still feeling a little tender. “I’m still disappointed we didn’t beat Celtic in midweek,” he said. “That is still a little bit raw today. I think that spurred the boys on today. I think we deserved two wins from this week. It’s only one win – but it’s put us through to the next round, so we’ll get back tonight and start preparing for Aberdeen.”
As for Ferguson, it’s back to the Championship grind. His side are eighth are need to put together a string of wins if they are to make significant strides towards the play-offs. Perhaps more pressing is the need to create some daylight between Inverness and the bottom two. They are now joint second bottom after Queen's Park's win at Dunfermline.
This was Ferguson's first Scottish Cup defeat since losing in the 1994 final against Dundee United while a Rangers player. There’s always next year – or perhaps, like last season, when Inverness ended up reaching the final, it might subsequently emerge that the opposition fielded an ineligible player. Queen’s Park rued this administrative error after a 2-0 win at the same stage of the competition. They were thrown out and Inverness were reprieved, eventually progressing as far as the final, where they lost to Celtic.
It’s unlikely lightning will strike twice. Ferguson saw enough to encourage him ahead of the last few months of the season. “We had possession, didn’t we?” he said. Again, no one was going to disagree with Big Dunc’s assessment – not Carragher, Neville or anyone else. “I felt we pushed them hard,” he added. "But you’re up against a good team, you have to be nearly perfect at the back. And today we weren’t. We gave them a couple of easy goals.”
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