Friday, April 12, 2013

Hibs: Returning to the scene of the crime

Do Hibs feel the hand of Scottish Cup history on their shoulder? Or does it have them by the throat, threatening to throttle them once again?

They head to Hampden as favourites to beat Falkirk in the semi final - 1.6 to win at Unibet to Falkirk's 5.5 - but demons lurk in every corner.

What do we chew on at the betting online feast? Back the SPL side against a team 20 points off the pace in the First Division?

But what if the SPL side haven't won this cup for 111 years, are attempting to reach back to back finals for the first time since 1924 and haven't played at Hampden since suffering their most traumatic defeat there last May?

What if the SPL team is Hibs?

A third Scottish Cup trip to Hampden for Pat Fenlon in less than two seasons in charge.

He might wish it was only the second but, as I said before last year's final "incident," his record in reaching finals in Ireland proved attractive to the Hibs board when they gave him the job. The limited evidence to hand suggests he might struggle to convert finals into trophies but, still, he got us there.

That Fenlon has brought Hibs to consecutive semi finals in the Scottish Cup belies his league record. While Fenlon inherited a mess from Colin Calderwood, just 15 wins from over 50 SPL games shows how difficult he's found it to wade through the rubbish.

The league form includes a run of just 16 points from the last 60 available, just one more than Dundee. A season of progress?

So Hibs, being Hibs, battle not just history this weekend but also fling a dollop of dreadful form into the mix.

What's gone wrong?

It seems a long time ago that they were topping the table in the autumn, putting together an early run of results that looked like making a top six place little more than a formality.

Players have lost form, an over reliance on Leigh Griffiths - who has so often sparkled on the pitch and covered a myriad of his team's sins - has been exacerbated by a roster of senior strikers that includes only the departing Eoin Doyle and the never-quite-here Shefki Kuqi.

Injuries and loss of form have highlighted a lack of cover in defence and if the signing of midfielders - extending beyond the transfer window with the reintroduction of Kevin Thomson - has become a fetish, it's not always led to satisfaction in the middle of the park.

At times inept, occasionally overly cautious and often just devoid of ideas, the promise of an Easter Road resurrection has been replaced by hints of insurrection.

Rod Petrie's towering 'tache might not yet be twitching but there are many in the support now convinced that a Petrie board has yet again picked the wrong manager.

Despite it all, just like they did last year, Hibs have carried on regardless in the Scottish Cup.

A mildly cathartic deflection in the Edinburgh derby, a hen's tooth of a stotter from Gary Deegan against Aberdeen, a Griffiths hat-trick at Kilmarnock.

And now just another 90 minutes away from a chance to laugh at 111 years of history while curing a little of the post traumatic stress suffered in Leith since last year.

Better to forget all that. Hibs have suffered at Hampden as underdogs and as favourites, Falkirk have upset the odds against better teams than this.

A semi final win is the only thing that can energise this comatose season at Easter Road.

Why wouldn't Falkirk revel in the chance to deny Hibs even an outside shot at redemption? Nothing sweetens an upset like the sight of suffering on the other side.

Hibs must find focus where too often they've looked detached, leaders must rediscover their qualities, players who have spent too many games coasting must find a spark.

Defeating 111 years of misery can wait, this semi final is about throwing off the pain of another wasted season.

What's gone before will show itself in empty terraces but there will be passion there.

Passion too from Falkirk. Will the Hibs players match it?

I'll troop loyally to Hampden once again, joining the rest of the victims returning to the scene of the crime.

All too often I've been mugged by own team.

Not this time, boys. Please, not this time.