Tuesday’s catastrophic collapse against Falkirk may not have been ideal preparation for Hibernian as they seek to secure a place in the Scottish Cup final for the third time in the past five years. However, when you compare their situation with Saturday’s opponents Dundee United, suddenly it doesn’t look quite so desperate down Easter Road way.
While Hibs have only two victories in the last 11 games, they can at least be comforted by the fact that, if they can turn things around and end the season with a strong run of form, they have every chance of salvaging something from the wreckage and gaining promotion back to the top flight. Should they do so, they would be almost certain to pass Mixu Paatelainen’s side on the way.
Not only did United blow a winnable home game against Inverness at the weekend, results elsewhere conspired to leave them eight points adrift at the foot of the table. With only five games remaining and 15 points available, it is becoming increasingly desperate for the 2014 Scottish Cup finalists. The saga involving Gavin Gunning and an injury doubt over Paul Paton will have done little to ease tensions around the United squad.
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The state of their opponents enabled Hibs’ players to talk about confidence when looking forward to Saturday’s showdown, despite there being little evidence of such a belief throughout the squad in recent games.
“They’re down there for a reason and have not competed this season,” said Hibs speedster Martin Boyle.
“We’ve knocked a few high league teams out of the cups. I don’t think we will be lacking confidence, we know we can beat higher opposition and hopefully it’s no different on Saturday.
“It’s more or less the same United side which we beat 3-0 in the League Cup earlier this season and we performed on that day. We need to do the same again on Saturday if we are to get another result and if we do that then I’m sure we’ll have no troubles.
“The Falkirk game was a bit devastating and it felt like a defeat in the end, the lack of concentration in the last five minutes killed us and we dropped two points. It’s probably the best we’ve played in the last few months, we know ourselves we’ve been disappointing but we need to take positives from that game. We just need to get that out of our minds and move on to Saturday now.
“This is our mini-season starting from now. We need to get back to our best otherwise it’s going to be doom and gloom.”
Both teams will be grateful for the cup distraction given their recent league exploits.
The one deviation in Hibs’ otherwise dire run came in the Scottish Cup where they managed to dispose of Inverness Caledonian Thistle after a replay, keeping up an impressive record of one defeat in eight games against top-flight opposition.
Similarly, United booked their place at Hampden after following up a 1-0 win against Partick Thistle in the fifth round with a barnstorming, come-from-behind 3-2 victory away to Ross County, despite going down to ten men in the process of losing the second goal.
Hibs fans need no reminder of the quality possessed by County, yet the League Cup winners have lost on three separate occasions to Paatelainen’s side this campaign, adding to the anything-can-happen feel of this Saturday’s match.
While Boyle conceded such unpredictability could mean another unhappy day for the travelling Hibs fans at Hampden, he reinforced his belief that Hibs’ quality will see them through.
“It’s a Scottish Cup semi-final and it’s going to be a great occasion. Anything can happen on the day and we will be looking to capitalise on that,” said Boyle.
“There’s always pressure when you are at a big club like Hibs. The fans have high demands and we believe we can achieve things.
“It will be good for Dundee United to get away from it all. They will enjoy getting away from the league competition but they are down at the bottom for a reason.”