Aberdeen 1-2 Hibernian: Wonder goal in vain as Hibs out-gun Dons

THE hope was that the change of venue, combined with the enticing prize on offer, might elevate this fixture above the poor fare served up in three league clashes so far this season. This wasn’t a classic by any stretch.

However, it was better than the previous encounters, an underwhelming series that has produced only a solitary goal – and that came via the penalty spot.

Here, by contrast, there was a strike fit to grace any arena, and any fixture, in the world. Sadly for Aberdeen, this was as good as it got for them. They did show signs of life in the period following the equaliser, and, in truth, they then looked the most likely team to go on and win the tie. But Aberdeen suffered for a lack of killer instinct up front. The goal scored by striker Rory Fallon was a one-in-a-million strike. What they wanted also was someone able to feed off scraps.

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While Fallon made something happen for himself, Hibernian made things happen for each other. The winner was memorable for its simple beauty; skipper James McPake’s header was the source but it was Garry O’Connor’s first-time pass into Leigh Griffiths’ path which really stood as the difference between the sides. His strike partner finished smartly but O’Connor had proved his worth with a devastating first-time flick from McPake’s powerful headed clearance.

The pass exposed the fact Clark Robertson had allowed Griffiths to get the wrong side of him, and the striker found the finish that complemented the fine assist. Since this is Hibernian we are talking about, the last three of minutes of normal time – and the five that were then, to Hibs fans’ horror, added on – were not negotiated as smoothly as some might have liked.

The ball ping-ponged around the Hibs goal but Mark Brown, who had replaced the hamstring-injury victim Graham Stack after 72 minutes, stood strong, and Hibs can look forward – if that is the phrase – to another opportunity, their 12th, to emulate the achievement of their brothers from the past. As every schoolboy now knows, Hibs last won the Scottish Cup in 1902. But of course, their quest has been lent a new dynamism by the knowledge that Hearts await in the final.

Becoming just as notorious is the tread of failure left by Aberdeen at the semi-final stage. Their latest failure has been rendered even more frustrating in light of the result from Hampden Park yesterday. This could have been their chance to lift the trophy for the first time since 1990. However, they were to rue both their slow start and diabolical defending that allowed Hibs to edge in front after only three minutes.

Pa Kujabi’s cross from the left, after a Griffiths pass had been blocked by Mark Reynolds, was turned into the gaping goal by O’Connor at the near post. Jason Brown, the Aberdeen goalkeeper, was guilty of dozing. It might have been an obscenely early kick off time, but there was still little excuse for the keeper’s poor judgment.

Although they saw a lot of the ball, Aberdeen struggled to get back into the game in the first-half. Griffiths saw one shot flash by the post as Hibs again signalled that they carried the threat of a goal, even though their all-round play was of limited quality. Tom Soares struggled to impose himself in midfield, where Isaiah Osbourne, his teammate, was given a lot of responsibility but little support.

Aberdeen, however, could not feast on the possession they enjoyed. Stack did not have a save to make in the first-half and there was no mistaking the Aberdeen fans’ disappointment when the whistle blew for half-time. Jeers rang out from their end of the stadium, an area even more densely packed than the sections which had been reserved for Hibs fans. Yet again a sizeable Aberdeen turnout were set for agony and frustration. Perhaps more cruelly, they were first given a reason for hope.

With Fraser Fyvie having replaced Ryan Jack at half-time, there was a new purpose about Aberdeen’s play. Andrew Considine directed a header straight at Stack. With 14 minutes of the second-half played, Fallon controlled a headed clearance from Matt Doherty on his chest. Sensing Stack had drifted a few yards too far from his line, he then lifted an exquisite effort over the keeper from 22 yards.

It was a strike that, for timing and technique, deserved to be compared to Zinedine Zidane’s Champions League-winning goal at the other end of the same park. Unfortunately for Aberdeen, however, there was no reward forthcoming after Fallon’s inspirational strike.

When Darren Mackie came on for Chris Clark, you wondered whether the scene was set for a local boy to plunder some glory for his team. That was almost how it went, although the player in question happened to play for Hibs. Griffiths had been spared being substituted due to the need to replace Stack with Mark Brown, with 18 minutes left.

Again, it felt fateful. Perhaps Brown would emerge the hero in a penalty shoot-out? But there was no need for this method of separating the teams, just as there was no need for another 30 minutes of play. Griffiths made the most of the one clear chance which came his way in the second-half, although he had already seen an effort hit the outside of the post.

It was a goal to cherish for the boyhood Hibs fan, who later learned that its significance had increased considerably over the course of a famous weekend.