Berwick Rangers were seen off in confident fashion by a Hibs team who never really got out of first gear. Hibernian march on and The Borderers can be proud of their own achievements – reaching the quarter finals is beyond the dreams of your average League Two player but after this result no-one will be able to stop the Hibees from dreaming of cup glory.
Alan Stubbs now has the job of keeping emotions in check and ensuring that we claim the first and most important prize of our season – promotion! Of course my fellow Hibs fans will, quite rightly, have a different view but in my opinion promotion is vital this time around.
The club has waited 113 years since we last lifted the trophy through countless great teams, numerous managers and variable degrees of hard or rotten luck stories we have tried and failed on, I believe thirteen occasions but to continue the progress that has started this season I feel we need to get promoted.
Jason Cummings and co will now focus on their forthcoming league matches against Livingston and Cowdenbeath in the knowledge that six points out of six will put them in a very commanding position ahead of the nearest challengers for the play-off spots.
Striker Cummings got the opening goal as he celebrated his return to the starting line-up in familiar fashion. Latching on to a fantastic pass from the effervescent Lewis Stevenson and placing the ball in to the bottom corner through the legs of Berwick ‘keeper Billy Bald. Stevenson’s ball down the outside of the right full back was a thing of beauty, Cummings worked his run perfectly and from there on in Hibs dominated in a performance no too dissimilar to that of our last two or three.
Comfortable not cavalier, settled not swashbuckling, efficient yet extremely effective. Whilst I am sure the club are happy to be flying under the radar when it comes to praise it is time the Scottish media started to give more credit to the way Hibernian are going about their business, self praise is no praise but they are finally getting their act together and the same people who were lining up, correctly, to cane us over the last few years should be more fulsome in offering Alan Stubbs, his backroom staff and the players credit for a remarkable job down Easter Road way.
When Lewis Stevenson claimed the second goal, two minutes later, with a delightful finish clipped in to the bottom right hand corner the game was all but over. Stevenson and Dominique Malonga worked a one-two and the left back advanced in to the box expertly before guiding the ball beyond a despairing Bald who had a few fantastic saves in the game.
The scoreline stayed at two nil as the game approached half time, the sunshine was piercing the wintry sky overlooking the capital and Hibs are finally making inroads on the steep fictitious mountain they had to climb this season – a mountain would have made the shadowing Arthurs Seat look insignificant given any natural resemblance.
The way in which Stubbs and his team have scaled the challenges, breaking down any issues that faced them bit by bit, throwing down the gauntlet by raising expectations week in, week out has been very impressive. This has been another season of redressing the negatives and consolidating our position but it has been done in the correct way this time around and given how poorly last season went the sea change in the whole club is simultaneously exasperating and exciting.
Exasperating because we are scared to dream, continually looking back and remembering failures, fearing disappointments, wondering whether we should really be enjoying what is going on, scared of what is to come and when it’s all going to go wrong again.
Exciting because this team could really go places if it is maintained, improved and most importantly allowed to play as they are doing so just now.
They are doing enough in games to win them, at this moment and that is great to see but that is all they are doing.
In some people’s eyes this is a worry.
It’s not quite as exciting as going out and confidently brushing teams aside, when the ball is being passed about at the back, in to the midfield and coming out in triangles along the back line again there’s a few “oohs” and “aahs”, the nerves from previous seasons creep in and the tension levels rise that wee bit more.
What the players are doing in working the ball like this is conserving much-needed energy for what could be an energy-sapping end to the domestic season in Scotland. They are slowing the game down, dictating the way they play and getting the job done in the most professional of ways. We know there will be times when more is required and we need to have confidence in the side to be able to raise their performance levels if and when that time comes around.
I am sure the club is doing all they can to ensure the players have the ability to perform with maximum effort when the season approaches its climax at the end of May.
Players who have featured less regular than they would have hoped will likely get the opportunity to stake their claim in the coming weeks and Sam Stanton took his chance when appearing as a substitute in this cup clash. He missed a couple of games having suffered from the mumps in previous weeks but he replaced a quiet Scott Allan with almost 65 minutes gone.
He scored a couple of minutes later when finishing coolly after Bald had saved a Malonga shot, the save fell kindly for Stanton who placed the ball in to the centre of the net and extended the home sides advantage.
Stanton is a good young prospect and will improve from playing alongside a better standard of teammate than he has been used to in previous seasons.
Stanton then turned creator when swinging in a superb corner which Fontaine met and powered a header beyond Bald. The corner came about in bizarre fashion although TV evidence proved the assistant referee correct in this instance.
Liam Craig hit a shot from eighteen yards out and it was tipped round the post by an acrobatic Bald who moved sprightly to his left, preventing Craig from scoring his second cup strike of the season.
Bobby Madden pointed for a goal kick having missed the ‘keepers great stop but the linesman on the East stand was pointing for the corner – confusion reigned for a few seconds before the officials sorted themselves out and gave the corner.
The Hibees took full advantage of the set-piece with the fantastic Fontaine claiming his goal.
Fontaine and his teammates seen out the rest of the match in training mode and the supporters celebrated at full time with a quiet delight that was a reflection on the trepidation that runs through the Easter Road support despite the obvious change in their fortunes both on and off the pitch.
In all honesty Berwick never really traded a blow and despite having a few shots they rarely troubled the home custodian Mark Oxley. Another quiet afternoon for the big Englishman who done everything right when required.
Defeating Berwick isn’t the biggest result in the world but would we have really seen ourselves possibly ninety minutes away from a Scottish Cup final, as we kicked off the Championship season back in early August?
The aim then, in my view, should be the aim now.
We have to ensure that we win the rest of our league games and clinch our position in the play-offs as the second placed team.
We have some fantastic players at the club just now and to keep them at the club I feel Premiership football is imperative. The likes of Allan, McGeouch, Fyvie and Malonga are far too good to be playing in the league below a season longer.
Financially, even without a league sponsor, the benefit of being in the top league is worth an additional player or two of the same quality. For example we could entice McGeouch to stay at the club, sign Fontaine up on a longer term deal and then allow Stubbs to work his magic a couple more times in the transfer market.
The current squad is a comfortable top six team and it is up to them to go out and prove their doubters wrong. The players just need to keep focused and the rewards will come.
Livingston travel to Leith on Wednesday and Burchill’s men will be keen to take advantage if the boys in green are still celebrating their semi-final place.
Malonga and captain for the day Gray picked up slight knocks against Berwick and Wednesday may see Stubbs utilise his squad with Watson, Dja Djedje and Boyle pushing for starts. Stanton will also be hoping his substitute appearance was enough to convince the gaffer that he deserves a shot in the first team.
The chance to freshen things up slightly must not affect the balance of what has been a settled team, the confidence is flowing throughout the whole squad and consistency is most important.
Season tickets for 2015/16 went on sale yesterday morning and the response has been fairly good from what I can gather from talking to fellow Hibees and reading on the message boards. The support is being treated to some of the best football we have seen in years and it’s great to see and hear everyone being so positive about the football club.
Which league we are playing in next season, is anyone’s guess just now but could we be about to taste the ultimate glory after a sour few years or could we be tempted too much by the sweet looking silverware that it throws us off course and leaves us staring at the Championship table for another season.
Hibs should always be at the top table but should we earn the right to taste the sweetest of successes later in May then lets hope it’s in addition to dining in premier company once again.