Aberdeen had a crossbar that is probably still shaking to thank for sealing their place in the last four of the Betfred Cup. The sight of Thomas Agyepong’s penalty crashing against the underside of the bar at the sudden death stage was dismaying for Hibs, who deserved more.
If there was a time and place to stage the Martin Boyle show then it was Easter Road last night. He had an extra half an hour to impress as well as this tie went to extra time in front of Alex McLeish after a goalless 90 minutes.
The Scotland manager had left by the time penalties were required to separate the teams so did not see Boyle convert his spot-kick to take it to sudden death. Agyepong, on loan from Manchester City, blasted Hibs’ seventh effort against the bar. He watched in horror as the ball came back out without crossing the line.
The Aberdeen players streamed towards their fans, who were behind the goal at the end where the shoot-out took place. Their joy at being the first side through to a Hampden semi-final this season was shot through with a measure of relief. Hibs had been the better side although did waste chances in extra time. The favourable reaction of the home fans towards their players showed how much they had appreciated their efforts on a long, draining night. There might have been no goals in the 120 minutes of football but it was entertaining nevertheless.
The chance to reach Hampden was motivation enough but Boyle was given extra reason to aim to get the better of his opposite man with the Scotland manager in the directors’ box.
Actually, it was opposite men. At times the visitors doubled up on Hibs’ in-form and in demand winger, with both Andrew Considine and on-loan Max Lowe patrolling the left side of their defence for the first hour anyway.
Lowe could not get forward as much as he and manager Derek McInnes would have liked, partly due to Boyle’s menace. Niall McGinn replaced him in an attempt to kick-start a very ordinary looking Aberdeen side.
McGinn should have scored in extra time but fired wildly over. Stevie May, another substitute, had a perhaps easier chance to put Aberdeen ahead but he dragged his shot wide.
Boyle did have the ball in the net twice but neither time counted. A handball in the run-up on the first occasion and offside on the second cut short his joy and gave McLeish some crossing out to do in his notebook.
The Scotland manager took his place shortly before kick-off but left before the end of the 120 minutes. McLeish cannot pick Florian Kamberi sadly. It might be worth checking for Scottish ancestry since the Swiss striker was a thorn in Aberdeen’s side in the time he was on.
He should have scored after seven minutes when put in on goal after Emerson Hyndman’s through ball. He rounded Joe Lewis and had to pirouette in order to get a shot on goal. His effort bounced the wrong side of the post.
The Aberdeen front three of James Wilson, Sam Cosgrove and Gary Mackay-Steven took a while to get going. Whether they ever did is a moot point.
Hibs, with Boyle to the fore, dominated the first half. At times, and this was understandable, it felt as if he was trying too hard.
And yet, amid some intense Hibs pressure Aberdeen so nearly went ahead. Wilson, perhaps for the first time in the match, provided a glimpse of his class when drifting past a series of challenges on the edge of the box. He could not evade Milligan’s lunge and referee Steven McLean awarded a free-kick around 22 yards from goal.
Dominic Ball stepped up and watched his effort strike the crossbar before rebounding down and then out, Stephen Mallan completing the clearing duties. Ball’s hand shot up in the vain hope the ball had crossed the line.
Then Boyle took over. The player is on form and brimming with confidence. Manager Neil Lennon has talked him up and there is talk of a call-up for Australia, for whom he qualifies on account of a Sydney-born father.
No wonder McLeish was attracted back to Easter Road. He is due to name his squad for the forthcoming fixtures against Albania and Portugal – some action against the former would tie Boyle down since that’s a Nations League qualifier.
He had the ball in the net after 34 minutes but was adjudged to have used an arm to control the ball after Mallan’s through ball. McLeish will still have noted the cool finish. Boyle was on the rampage again a few minutes later but this was not so impressive; he shot past when at least two of his team-mates were better positioned. Despite knowing who was watching from the main stand they were not willing to let it ride and made sure Boyle knew about it. The winger had reason to return the ire in the second half when Oli Shaw fired wide rather than tee him up.
Aberdeen were disappointing on the whole. They did up the ante towards the end of normal time but neither extra time nor penalties could be avoided.