Hibernian 3 - 0 Irvine Meadow: Bold Meadow keep Hibs' Scottish Cup nerves jangling

ALL they were saying was give us a goal. But in the end Irvine Meadow could not do even that, though their performance merited at least this reward. There have been more one-sided matches seen at Easter Road this season, be assured of this. Indeed, Hibs have themselves been dominated with more ease on their own patch. The only mastery which they managed to exercise over Irvine Meadow was in the art of taking chances.

Perhaps, though, we should not be too surprised. Though their bucolic-sounding name suggested otherwise, Irvine Meadow were not some band of merry amateurs on a footballers' equivalent of a sightseeing mission to the capital.

This did not represent their only shot at the big time. Most of their team have passed through senior football before. One or two have even opted to play junior football, where the money and crowds are often greater than what is on offer at some First Division clubs. More than a few performances on Saturday betrayed this background.

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Brian McGinty, for one, could still do a job for an SPL club, while there were others who helped quash the quaint notion of an opposition team in awe of the surroundings. Of course, the highly competent showing of the away team simply raised once more the issue of a pyramid system, the introduction of which could see such Super League sides gain entry to the Third Division. McGinty, when asked to contemplate this question, provided a refreshingly considered reply.

"There is no dispute that the players and management staff want it," he said. "It's whether it suits the clubs. And that's why it was important to come here and put on a good show, because it is a community club. It's a big thing for the town.

"There's no doubt that the players and management staff would want to go and test themselves. The flip side is that there is obviously criteria that you need to meet in league football. And you have to ask whether the clubs en masse want to take that (cost] on."

Perhaps McGinty's own ambitions on this front have been blunted by the fact he has been this way before. Indeed, he can even claim to have partnered Paul Gascoigne in midfield for Rangers at Easter Road. But, despite the obvious quality of some of their starting XI, the half an hour or so where Irvine Meadow not only held a strong Hibs team, but also took the game to them, still provided the kind of thrill that forms when genuine cup shocks look to be in sight.

The tortured relationship Hibs share with the Scottish Cup meant there was an extra charge in the air as the home team struggled to compete in the early stages. If they had fallen here, at the first hurdle to a non-senior side, then it might have seemed time for the club to simply cut their losses and withdraw from the tournament for good.

In his programme notes, John Hughes, the Easter Road manager, directed readers to the pages devoted to the numerous achievements of their opponents. It was noticeable that this proud history began only five years before Hibs last tasted success in the Scottish Cup. Irvine Meadow were formed in 1897, and Hibs, as we all know by now, have not achieved glory in this tournament since 1902.

Perhaps this accounted for the nervousness which was shot through their performance in the first-half. Irvine Meadow went for the throats immediately, with McGinty taking aim from wherever he could. By the 18th minute, and with Hibs still to have a meaningful effort on goal, they had clocked up their fourth corner. Chris Hogg was either getting himself into trouble or getting his team out of it, and staged a couple of last-ditch challenges as McGinty and strike partner Richie Barr gave the Hibs back four no end of trouble.

The first of two pivotal moments occurred on 28 minutes when Barr and Hibs goalkeeper Graeme Smith appeared to collide in the box after a through ball from McGinty. However, the only arm movement employed by Euan Norris, the referee, was towards his back pocket, as he drew out a card. It wasn't for Smith either.

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Perhaps Barr suffered for the fact that the collision with Smith had seemed inevitable from the moment they had both started to race towards the ball. When the attacker duly fell, there was a sense of choreography about it. "He's not that clever to dive," was Irvine Meadow manager Chris Strain's take on it. When Barr himself later made an appearance with the letters RB inked into his neck – to remind him who he is, perhaps? – it was possible to see where Strain was coming from.

"We are not kidding anyone on," stressed McGinty, when asked about the penalty incident. "I don't think we would have gone on to win the game. But it would certainly have made it interesting."

A relieved Hibs went ahead almost immediately, with Riordan claiming the credit as he forced a dangerous cross from David Wotherspoon over the line, with Irvine Meadow's Alexander Ryan in close attendance.

The other turning point, however, came three minutes after this 31st minute goal. McGinty, with shades of Alex McLeish against Rangers in the 1982 Scottish Cup final, wrapped his right foot around the ball, and from the far edge of the penalty area sought to send it soaring into the top right hand corner of the goal.

McLeish, it might be recalled, saw his effort sail into that spot. McGinty, however, watched his attempt screw back off the post, before being cleared by John Rankin. More chances came and went before Merouane Zemmama slammed in Hibs' second goal, four minutes before the interval.

Paul Hanlon scored the only goal of the second-half after an exchange of passes with Derek Riordan provided him with the space to home in on the impressive Meadow goalkeeper, Michael Wardrope, and fire the third.

All that remained was the hope that Meadow might plunder the goal their efforts more than deserved, although the sympathy of the neutral was tested by their fans' tendency to belt out distasteful songs more associated with a certain club from Govan. Still, the players deserved their bow in front of the well-populated away stand at the end.

This was in contrast to the grumblings of the home supporters, who had watched their side toil so markedly for significant stretches of the match. Hibs had at least avoided making history by becoming the first top tier club to be beaten in a competitive match by a junior outfit.

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Now all that is left is for them is to complete the task of becoming history-makers. If they can do that, the club's long-suffering supporters will readily forgive their heroes for this less than exhilarating beginning.


Gareth Turner (Irvine Meadow)

The sandy-haired midfielder was everywhere, and even excelled when asked to take over at centre-half in the closing stages. Succumbed to cramp in the final minutes, unsurprisingly, but he still didn't want to come off.