In a competition where the Easter Road club would always expect to see themselves there or thereabouts, the absence of Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and, even city neighbours Hearts, has seen them installed as the bookies’ pick to lift the silverware in February.
LIke SAS hopefuls tasked with coming through the selection process with 55lb packs on their back, Hibs will have to negotiate the final two hurdles burdened by the huge weight of expectation.
The military elite see their challenge as a test of endurance, strength, agility, determination and focus, and those qualities will be as vital in the Hibs squad as Jack Ross’ men first try to get by St Johnstone, next month, before seeing the job through and winning the final, at Hampden, on February 28.
Regardless who the majority of the betting public’s money is on, Ross will warn that nothing is a foregone conclusion. Those who suffered the emotional and psychological hit of losing to Hearts in last season’s postponed Scottish Cup semi-final contest will understand that.
Any who don’t, just need to study recent results against their Perth opponents to have that message reinforced.
In 11 meetings there have been five draws, while only one of the remaining head to heads provided a win margin of more than one goal. That was last season, when Christian Doidge was the hat-trick hero in a 4-1 victory at McDiarmid Park. But this term, no such gulf has existed.
Despite varying fortunes at the start of this campaign, with Hibs challenging at the top of the Premiership and St Johnstone struggling to get going under new manager Callum Davidson, when the pair faced up in August, Hibs had to rely on a stoppage time spot-kick conversion from Stevie Mallan to break the deadlock, while in November, the capital side trailed twice and had to battle back with two Paul McGinn replies to gain share of the points.
The character shown in those games will be positives the manager can highlight, though. While the defensive blip that cost them in the most recent meeting appears to have been addressed and, with a couple of clean sheets in recent weeks, seems capable of offering sterner resistance, albeit against a Saints side who have started to get the results many of their early season showings merited. Both will be hoping to build on that momentum in the run up to their showdown at the national stadium.
After they had fought back against lower league Alloa, in Tuesday night’s quarter-final, Ross told his players that having tested the water at the semi final stage in each of the last three major cup competitions, it was now time to throw themselves into the task of making finals and winning silverware. On track, they now just need to play to their strengths, and rather than buckle under the weight of expectation, show they have the wherewithal and character to avoid the curse of being favourites in a competition that has seen the goliaths cast aside more than once this season. After all, who dares wins.