Hibernian 1 Rangers 0 (23rd May 2015)
All things being equal, this ought to have been a report from Motherwell v Partick, which, when I booked this trip at the start of the month, was potentially a do or die relegation decider. As it happened, results last weekend condemned that game to the most meaningless of matches, meaning I missed the chance to see a three-quarters empty Fir Park and an apparently stupefying 0-0 draw.
I had eyed the potential Hibs v Rangers play-off semi-final, but assumed that I’d only get a ticket if Rangers lost to Queen of the South in the QFs. Clearly play-off semis aren’t the high-profile games they are south of the border though, and when I realised that Motherwell v Partick may not prove to be a thriller, it allowed me a very good alternative.
The only problem really was time. At 11 am I’d still be at Edinburgh Airport. Fine for a game at Motherwell, four hours later, but not ideal for a noon kick-off at Easter Road. A taxi did get me there in time, thankfully, even if the taxi driver did take me on a tour of every red traffic light in Edinburgh, via an ever-changing route that made me think he’d accidentally replaced his sat-nav with a version of pac-man instead.
I like to get to a decent ground at least an hour before kick-off to have a good look round etc, but 30 minutes before is just about enough to get a feel for the pre-match vibe. The crowds around the packed pubs on Easter Road were certainly in good spirits. The 0-2 deficit from the first leg didn’t seem to be troubling them.
Some grounds benefit from the district in which they are located. Some grounds benefit from what you can see from the ground. Easter Road is lucky enough to have both, particularly from my vantage point at the back of the “Famous Five Stand”, with the 250m high hills of Arthur’s Seat rising up behind the away end, with the tiny silhouettes of walkers visible on the summit.
Easter Road is about as good a modern build as you’ll get to see. There’s nothing fancy about it. Three two-tier sides, and one large single tier side form the ground, but it just works. The ends, with their corners sliced off, add a bit of individuality, and the single tier stand down the side, because of its size as much as anything else, has shades of the large terrace it replaced. Plus, of course, you get the view. Not just of Arthur’s seat, but of the surrounding district itself through the gaps in the corners. Through one of these gaps a floodlight pylon, a few hundred metres away, stood out. This was for Meadowbank Stadium, home of Meadowbank Thistle until the mid 1990s, and non-league Edinburgh City since then.
On a delightfully sunny afternoon, it was perhaps even more fitting than usual that Hibs took the field to the uplifting anthem “Sunshine on Leith”, and everything looked set for a memorable afternoon for those in dark green. On a perfectly manicured pitched, save for the touchlines which frayed like badly nibbled fingernails once beyond the white line, Hibs were all over Rangers at the start, and it was looking like a matter of time before Rangers’ 2-0 lead was halved.
Sadly Rangers’ who were not exactly popular in this part of the world anyway, went into evil genius mode, and decided their best bet was to make sure nothing resembling a football match would take place.
Rangers went for trench warfare, only without the elegance and beauty, forming a resolute defensive line that Hibs found it near impossible to breach. Even when Hibernian did make it into a good position, frustration and a lack of composure meant the Rangers keeper was far less troubled than he deserved to be.
Frustration was in the crowd too. “Yer wee basta!” was my insult of choice from the one-man abuse factory to my left, whose personal dislike of Rangers wasn’t going to mellow after today.
Rangers had come to do a job, and silencing the crowd, who roared as loud as 40000 despite only 14000 being there thanks to the grounds terrific acoustics, was part of that plan too. Those loud roars of encouragement were becoming less and less frequent though, while the taunts of the surprisingly small blue contingent in the far corner became more grating.
You always felt that if Hibernian could just get that first goal it could make all the difference, but sadly not when it comes in the 4th minute of 5 minutes of additional time. A long-missing bit of composure saw the ball chipped over the keeper into the far corner of the net, but the cheer that greeted the goal was one that was filled with lingering hope rather than belief.
There was to be no fairy tale comeback. There just wasn’t enough time to even create another proper chance before the whistle blew.
This wouldn’t be one of Hibernian’s most memorable seasons, with local rivals Hearts romping to the title ahead of them, losing a cup semi final against outsiders Falkirk, and now losing this semi to a side who finished below them in the league.
It would have been easy for the disgruntled Hibernian fans to turn their backs and begin the trudge home immediately. Instead, to the strains of “Sunshine on Leith” again, nearly everyone stayed to applaud the team on a lap of genuine appreciation. Hearts may have been broken, but as the song also goes “While the chief, puts sunshine on Leith, I’ll thank him for his work” and the Hibs fans were definitely and defiantly doing their thanking.