The Easter Road faithful have welcomed the proposal; indeed they’ve insisted it happen. “If this lot play as poorly next season,” they warn, “then the only way we’ll be able to watch is if we’re absolutely flippin’ blootered.”
That Scottish Cup final showing wasn’t just an inducement to hit the bottle, big-time. It made supporters want to impose a new lockdown on themselves. Level 17, proper hardcore. No leaving the house at all. Curtains firmly closed. Cereal for every meal and only resorting to the last of the millennium bug panic buys - Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie in a tin - when all hope has gone. And no Netflix, just Matt Hancock on a loop, still boasting about the vaccine rollout even with the hounds of hell gnawing at his backside.
How so? Because the distance between the performance supporters thought they would see and the one they were made to watch was simply too great. In 2012 there had been no expectation. Hibs had only just avoided relegation. There was no playoff for the second-bottom team that season and just as well. They would never have survived it.
And yet nine years ago Pat Fenlon’s motley bunch of loanees summoned up enough gumption to briefly stall Hearts’ charge, score a goal and send the fans into the half-time break thinking: “They’re bloody awful. They’re an ugly team playing in holiday t-shirts. But, christ, you never know … ”
Last Saturday Hibs were bloody awful and, even though you can never predict a cup final and certainly not with the Hibees involved, the shock was immense.
Think about this: it takes some doing for every outfield player to have a stinker. For not one of them to remember that a national trophy was at stake, to remember that Hibs don’t win many of them and if they were to stay at the club their careers could be over before the next opportunity came round again - and yet still play so badly.
Every outfield man in 2012 had a stinker as well but Jack Ross’s team had been raved about all season long. They had a sexy attack, a bloodthirsty young centre-back who’d slide-tackle his granny, the next great Scotland left-back and more besides. Half the team were wanted by other clubs. The Sportscene green room, like that weird Alan Partridge moment when a lunatic fan is rumbled, would probably be found to be covered floor to ceiling with photos of Martin Boyle.
So what went wrong, guys? Too hyped for sure but on the day too passive, too timid, too dim-witted, too unaware they were playing that curious beastie, a Nemesis from the fair and unassuming city of Perth - and too lacking in a plan to counteract or even vaguely surprise a never-changing team who’d beaten them three times already in 2021 and were starting to take the mickey. Oh, and too lacking Scott Allan, the club’s most-talented being cup-tied and stuck in the stand.
One irate supporter on Twitter - there were many - demanded to see a heat map of the ground covered by Hibs front three because he was sure it wouldn’t look good next to the work that St Johnstone’s pest of a striker, Chris Kane, got through on his own.
Kane left something on Ryan Porteous every time they clashed and eventually drew the inevitable lash-out. St Johnstone knew how to play Hibs. Callum Davidson hinted at this before the game, echoing Livingstone’s David Martindale who explained his side’s 3-0 win at Easter Road in January thus: “Ach, we’ve watched them a lot.” I’m sure Hibs studied plenty of St Johnstone DVDs before last Saturday but the insipid evidence out on the park suggested otherwise.
Pre-final, Ross in answer to a question about whether the feats of Hibs’ 2016 heroes in the competition had been mentioned in his team’s preparations, replied tensely: “When are they ever not?” Well, they’re going to be mentioned again. Three times five years ago Hibs men emerged with the ball from challenges they shouldn’t have won and within seconds three goals had been scored. First John McGinn, then Darren McGregor and finally David Gray.
Unfortunately - unforgivably - this team had done to them what Alan Stubbs’ players did to Rangers. Callum Booth’s two tackles leading up to St Johnstone’s winner are already being immortalised by Saints fans.
A colleague who, assuming the kickoff was 3pm and turned on the TV to discover it was half-time and Hibs were one-nil down, immediately concluded: “Game over.” He was proved right, which is pretty damning, given that the scorer, Shaun Rooney, had already broadcast the fact he liked a 32nd minute showpiece strike and with his bushy beard and big baldy heid was hardly going undercover in search of another.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Hibs were supposed to come back stronger from the season’s two dismal semi-final losses - not weaker. Still a work-in-progress? Tell that to Davidson who’s had less time and fewer resources to achieve his stunning success. “Make mine a double,” is a popular Perth quip. Ron, it’s your round, and I need one, too.