At Coventry City, the FA Cup win of 1987 defined their history. At Hibs, the 1902 victory in the Scottish counterpart haunts it.
On-loan Sky Blue McPake led Hibs into the last eight of the Scottish Cup on Saturday with a performance which suggests he is not one to get too bogged down with talk of hoodoos. Indeed, the no-nonsense central defender would likely treat the notion that Hibs are jinxed in the same way he deals with balls which venture near his vicinity – by booting, or heading, it into touch.
Not that he is cast solely in the rugged defender mould. McPake is a decent footballer, of that there is no doubt. Best of all as far as Hibs fans are concerned, he helps others around him to become better footballers.
Paul Hanlon enjoyed his best game of the season next to McPake, as Hibs withstood Kilmarnock’s response to going a goal down after only 15 minutes. Even then the home team, including five January arrivals, had had a Garry O’Connor goal harshly chopped off for a foul on the goalkeeper, Cammy Bell.
Hibs held on, which means that they fight on two fronts. Surviving in the league is clearly a priority, but if cup wins like this one can help lift the gloom, then so much the better.
McPake knows that securing the club’s SPL status is the principal reason why he has been brought in. However, he is also aware of the positives which can flow from a cup victory.
Coventry still live off the day 25 years ago when they defeated Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 at Wembley.
Keith Houchen, someone else who connects both Coventry and Hibs, scored a memorable headed goal that day in May to take the game to extra time.
“There are photos around the club and we wore a memorial shirt to mark 25 years since the FA Cup win during one of my last games,” said McPake. “Cup wins leave a massive legacy. It hangs around when you do win it, and these competitions are great.”
It can hang around when you don’t win it, too, as Hibs fans know to their cost. There was a sense of trepidation at Easter Road prior to kick-off.
McPake revealed that he, too, felt some extra pressure weighing down on him.
“There was a monkey on my back as well because I went out at the hands of East Stirling with Livingston the last time I played in the Scottish Cup,” he said. “I wanted to make amends for that as well.”
McPake also believed that he owed the fans something after being sent off in his first game for the club, at Ibrox. It was only the second red card of his career.
“It couldn’t have come at a worst time,” he said. He more than made up for it on Saturday, exhibiting the leadership qualities which Hibs so desperately need.
He didn’t, he said, feel uneasy at being asked to lead the side so soon after arriving. “A lot of people say that there is nothing in it these days, but, for me, being captain is a bit special,” added McPake. “With the club captain [Ian Murray] out injured, I was really honoured to be given that.” McPake talked his team-mates through the game as Hibs restricted their opponents to long-range efforts on goal. One strike, from Danny Racchi, was the only one which caused goalkeeper Graham Stack real concern, although James Fowler was inches away from connecting with a David Silva cross in the 90th minute.
You had sensed the game might have a sting in the tail for Hibs. It was, after all, the Scottish Cup. But McPake’s resolute defending inspired others to follow his lead.
Hanlon and Matt Doherty, making his debut at right-back, also threw their bodies in the way of shots, while Pa Kujabi, another full-back debutant, offered evidence that he could go on to become a fans’ favourite with a swashbuckling performance. He was not scared to put his foot through the ball, either.
“It maybe wasn’t pretty, but defending isn’t about being pretty unless you are a top, top, top defender,” pointed out McPake. “We are not [one of those], otherwise we would be playing in the English Premier League or in leagues with better teams. We have to concentrate on the basics of defending. I feel we did that well.”
Alongside Doherty, Kujabi and McPake, Tom Soares, who faded after a bright opening spell, was the other player in the starting XI making his home debut. There is more likely to come from him.
Whether Hibs fans have already seen the best of O’Connor must be a concern, however. The striker still looks remarkably hefty and played as though he has other things on his mind. Possibly he does.
He was substituted after 70 minutes and had the brass neck to look surprised. Eoin Doyle, his strike partner, also left the field then having scored the goal which proved to be the difference between the two teams, after a cut-back from Soares. The ball flew into the far corner of Bell’s goal after skipping up off the turf.
Both Kilmarnock’s Dean Shiels and his manager father, Kenny, were slightly disparaging about the winner.
“I think it went off the guy’s knee,” said Dean, although the former Hibs midfielder did add that he firmly hopes his old club can go on to lift the trophy.
His father has had a habit of upsetting rival teams in recent weeks. There is, however, usually some truth in what he says. Hibs fans will recognise the sense contained in his reply, upon being asked if he had seen enough to suggest the “new Hibs” were about to experience a serious upswing in fortunes. “I wouldn’t stretch it that far,” he said.