One team is sitting comfortably in second place in the Premiership, the other has only just engineered an escape from the Championship at the third attempt. But when it comes to this afternoon’s Scottish Cup semi-final, Hibernian defender Darren McGregor says the fact they are heading back to Glasgow as defending champions means no-one should underestimate them.
“Listen, this time last year, we were coming off the back of a few tough results and we had all our eggs in one basket. Everything was riding on the Scottish Cup as a saving grace. So the anxiety and apprehension going into that game was huge. But this time we go into it knowing we’ve won the league, knowing we’ve given a good account of ourselves to reach the last four as holders. So, if it ends on Saturday, we’ve done well. But I’m confident it won’t end on Saturday.
“I think we match up very well to Aberdeen. All the chat and all the pressure is honestly on them. We set out at the start of the season and the mandate was to win the league. Anything else was a bonus. Now that apprehension is away and we’re heading into this game confident, with clear minds.
“We know that Aberdeen are strong all over the park. They’ve got some really good players. In fact, I don’t think they’ve got any weaknesses, to be honest. But I believe that we’re a big-game team. We’ve proven that in past years. So it’s a win-win for us.”
Aberdeen were just one of the scalps claimed by Hibs as they progressed to both the League and Scottish Cup finals last season, with the Leith side apparently saving their best performances for the knockout competitions. While they have controlled the league campaign this season, wrapping up a return to the top flight last weekend, their own manager has accused them of once again saving the top showings for the defence of the silverware they won last term.
McGregor says the players took pride in ending the hoodoo and have savoured the fans’ feedback. Last season’s feat has given them a swagger and belief that they can beat anyone on any given day.
“Speak to any player, and they want to win trophies. To win the most prestigious one in Scotland is great for anybody’s cv. There will be guys in there desperate to contribute. It’s a team game and we will go into it focused, knowing that the pressure is off and we are the underdogs. I think we thrive in that position.
“There are two main threats for me. We are well aware they are very good at set-pieces. They have proved that. I watched the Dundee game and they were outstanding. But we’ve got good aerial presence and are good at defending set-pieces. Their wingers also cause lots of teams problems. Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn are great players but, to counter that, we’ve got Dave Gray and Lewis Stevenson. There are not many guys get past them to get crosses into the box. It will definitely be a good duel but I’m confident we will prevail.”
This stage of the competition cast Conrad Logan as the unheralded hero last year as the goalkeeper was brought in to face Dundee United. It was his first competitive senior game in 16 months but he pulled off several saves during the match and then weighed in with two saves in the penalty shootout.
“It was incredible. Big Conrad was the star man. Unbelievable. The big guy deserves so much praise. To be out that long, come in for his first game and perform like that, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance from a goalkeeper. To save penalties, point-blank shots and be the inspiration he was that day, he drove us on and in the end was a pivotal part of us winning the cup.”
But McGregor is hoping the Easter Road side can win without the tension of another round of spot kicks, admanet that he won’t be volunteering if matters are dragged out that long. “We did pens the other day in training and I skied mine over the bar to win the game. I think I’ll be behind the gaffer if it comes to pens!”