Hibernian 2-3 Aberdeen: Derek McInnes edges Neil Lennon in tactical battle

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Few observers predicted anything other than a closely-fought match between the Championship winners and the second-best team in the country.

Even fewer could have imagined just how the game would ebb and flow, and ultimately provide Aberdeen with their first chance in 17 years to win a cup they treated as their own in the eighties.

In 1990, as Alex McLeish lifted the trophy just as Willie Miller had done four times in the preceding decade, it would have seemed inconceivable they would not do so again.

But those are the bare facts. And four consecutive losing semi-finals ensured no-one took victory today for granted.

Tactical defence

And yet Aberdeen began the match with such a sense of authority and superiority that all doubt seemed to have been banished inside the opening 25 minutes.

Aberdeen last lifted the Scottish Cup in 1990 and last reached the final in 2000<!–

Their desire to press Hibernian paid off in the opening seconds – a swifter reward than Derek McInnes could have possibly dreamed of.

But it was a tactic they continued to employ to great effect, snapping into tackles and denying the Hibernian backline and midfield any time or space to develop their game-plan.

The ploy looked a masterstroke from McInnes, but then Neil Lennon changed the game with one of his own.

The introduction of Grant Holt and a change of shape brought Hibs back from the dead – all of a sudden Hibs were able to play the ball forward and not find it coming instantly back on top of them.

Again his goal was a quicker pay-off than Lennon could have hoped for, but his overall impact – in particular his pass for Dylan McGeouch’s equaliser – was phenomenal.

Aberdeen backbone

That equaliser came moments after another tactical switch – this time by Derek McInnes – whose decision to move to a back three appeared to play into Hibernian’s hands.

Grant Holt comes on for Fraser Fyvie<!–

The Hibs comeback was a significant test of Aberdeen’s resolve. Having been so comfortable for 30 minutes, they were rattled by Holt’s goal and at 2-2 the clever money was on the resurgent men from Leith.

But Aberdeen’s determination to avoid a fifth successive Scottish Cup semi-final defeat kicked in and they clawed their way back into the game.

McInnes’s assertion that they were deserved winners is a generous one, but they stuck steadfastly to their task and though Jonny Hayes’ winner had a huge slice of luck attached to it, Aberdeen now have the opportunity to make amends for a tame League Cup final showing earlier in the season.

Lennon frustration

After the match, Lennon declined to accept the tag of gallant losers, insisting his team were simply losers.

It’s a harsh assessment but an indication of the standards the Hibs manager demands – and will continue to demand – from his side.

Lennon has not amassed the medals he has won as a player and manager by accepting second-best, which is what his side were by some distance in the opening half-hour.

But he can take solace – on reflection – in the manner his team dug in to give the country’s second-best team quite a fright.

Hibernian boss Neil Lennon was unhappy with his side's display at the start of the match<!–

He can now turn his attention fully to building for next season’s return to the Premiership. A few astute signings could ensure they are challenging in the upper half of the table this time next year.

For Derek McInnes, though, the short-term requires his full attention. Second place in the Premiership looks a safe bet, though not yet an absolute certainty.

But he and his players could make a real name for themselves back at Hampden on 27 May if they can end the 27-year wait to reclaim the Scottish Cup.

References

  1. ^ Dons beat Hibs in thriller (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ McInnes lauds Dons’ effort (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ ‘Pathetic’ start cost Hibs – Lennon (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ Hibs v Abereen player rater (www.bbc.co.uk)

BBC Sport – Football

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