Sunday 25th May 2014 ko 15.30
Scottish Premiership Play-Off Final 2nd Leg
HAMILTON ACADEMICAL 2 (Scotland 12 Andreu 90)
Agg 2-2 AET Hamilton won 4-3 on penalties
Team Sheet FREE
I’d wanted to pay Easter Road a visit for ages, for one thing it was the last of the Scots Big 5 for me to do (Rangers, Celtic, Hearts and Aberdeen being the others), and the O.C.D. side of me wanting to visit a ground I’d parked near to a number of times on holidays! There was also the “Which Hibs?” factor to consider, after a trip to the Maltese Hibernians, the additional “S” is important, just ask a well-known groundhopper! The full sorry story, and the trip to the Maltese version can be found here!
Like Glaswegian behemoths Celtic, Hibs’ roots are of Irish immigration to Scotland, the name is after all a corruption of “Hibernia,” the Latin name for Ireland. And whilst the roots are obvious, unlike Celtic the club have managed to rid themselves of the sectarian idiocy that blights “The Auld Firm.” In fact, it was only in 2000 that the Irish harp was restored to the club badge, it had been removed in the 1950’s so as to avoid sectarianism. I rather like the current design, it has the 3 elements of the club’s existence, Leith, Edinburgh and Ireland.
The ground is a modern 20,421 all-seater stadium, and although Hibs and their board, Kwik-Fit CEO Sir Tom Farmer, and chairman Rod Petrie, have got much wrong this season, their move to reduce seat prices to £10 ensured a near-full house. The SPFL introduced for this season in the 2nd tier Championship, a rugby league-style playoff system. The 4th-placed team played the 3rd-placed team for the right to play the 2nd-placed team, who then played-off, over 2 legs, the 2nd from bottom team in the Premiership, for a place in next season’s top flight.
And that dear reader, is where the ironies began. Hibs finished second from bottom, hence their appearance in this fixture, but the team that finished bottom was cross-town rivals Heart of Midlothian! However, Hearts were deducted 15 points for going into administration, and without that handicap would have finished comfortably mid-table! In fact they beat Hibs in three out of the 4 times they met in the league. If nothing else, the fact that Hibs hadn’t won at all since a 2-1 win at home to Ross County on 15th February before the first leg 4 days earlier, showed that at best Hibs deserved to be playing-off for their right to extend their 15-year stay at the top table of Scottish football. A side that finished bottom of the table on the pitch is barely deserving of a reprieve is it?
It didn’t take long to understand just how deep the rot has set in. The print run for the programme was only 1,000, you could hardly see a programme let alone buy one, (I got mine from eBay!). There were massive queues for refreshments, as there were nowhere near enough staff to cope with an attendance roughly double the normal gate. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, whilst few expected Hibs to win 2-0 at New Douglas Park, the fact remained that they had, and surely a reasonably solid performance should have been within their capabilities, shouldn’t it?
Every professional sportsman I’ve spoken to would have approached this game the same way, divide the game into 15 minute spells, and treat each as a mini game. So, all concerned with the club would have been extremely disappointed when Accies’ Jason Scotland was allowed to spin his man and fire past Ben Williams with only 12 minutes on the watch. You looked at the team sheet, it wasn’t that either side had better players than the other, it was just so obvious that Hibs were at the end of a poor season, and Hamilton at the end of a good one. All the football was coming from the visitors, with Hibs play flat, tired, and uninspired. But as the game wore on, and no further goals were forthcoming, it looked like Hibernian would get away with it.
The electronic clock suddenly became 4 minutes slow, and Owain Tudur Jones replaced the more attacking Danny Haynes. Hamilton did the opposite, Mikael Antoine-Curier supplementing Scotland up front. But with seconds to go, the Hibs fans had sensed salvation and were chanting in the direction of the away end when man-of-the-match Scotland’s cut-back found Anthony Andreu, and his shot beat Williams at his bottom left corner. The stadium clock may well have said 86 minutes, 18,000 paying patrons knew it was a good deal later than that.
The half-hour of extra-time produced little or nothing of note, although it was obvious that perversely for a side at home Hibs were more than happy to gamble on penalties. That gamble backfired spectacularly when arguably their best striker of a dead ball, Kevin Thomson, saw his effort saved, and when Accies scored their next 4 spot kicks with little fuss, it was left to Jason Cummings to keep Hibs in the Premiership.
It had been the young striker’s first two goals for the club that had won the first leg for Hibs, but he looked nervous as he took the long walk from the centre circle, and it was of little surprise that his weak effort was saved, relegating his team. The Accies players ran to their fans to celebrate as the boos rang throughout the other 3 sides of Easter Road. I watched proceedings for a few minutes, as green and white scarves, and season tickets were thrown on the pitch, before making my way back to the car via a demonstration outside the main stand.
It’s an unusual state of affairs that next season 3 out of the 5 biggest clubs in Scotland will be playing outwith the country’s top flight. If nothing else the Scottish Championship will be worth keeping an eye on as Rangers, Hearts, and Hibs all chase just one guaranteed promotion spot. Whether Petrie, or manager Terry Butcher will be around to compete though is anyone’s guess.