Hibernian FC lost their first cup final of the season against a feisty Ross County team at Hampden on Sunday. Alex Schalk’s 89th minute goal secured the result for the Dingwall club after Hibs defender Liam Fontaine matched Michael Gardyne’s opener just before halftime.
With the Scottish Cup in the hands of Inverness until May, the game at Hampden proved an apt opportunity for Ross County to bring both of the domestic trophies to the Highlands. The club, only promoted to the Scottish Premier League in 2012, were playing Highland League football only twenty years ago, and their victory secured their first ever Scottish League Cup.
It was a scrappy start to the game at the national stadium in Glasgow, with neither side getting a foothold in the game for the first ten or fifteen minutes. Hibs with their chance to win the League Cup for the first time since 2007 settled the quicker, eventually finding a rhythm of sorts and dominating possession as they so often have done this season. County remained a tough proposition, the club that sits a comfortable fourth in the Scottish Premiership were not about to be rolled over, and after 25 minutes they went 1-0 ahead.
Ex-Celtic man Jackson Irvine with his long, gangly legs nicked the ball away from Anthony Stokes in the Hibs half, slipping it through to Michael Gardyne who despite challenges from Marvin Bartley and a rather desperate dive from goalkeeper Mark Oxley, passed it into the back of an empty net.
It looked to be County’s day for most of the rest of the first half with goalkeeper Gary Woods pulling off important saves from Cummings and Stokes. Cummings and right-back David Gray came closest for Hibs, Cummings an inch away from scoring after a cross in from Gray on the right as the ball flashed in front of him. Gray himself should then have scored, after a corner in from Henderson was scuppered by a superb tackle from the impressive Irvine.
It was just before half-time however when County’s luck ran out and Hibs’ dominance in the centre of the park finally got its reward. Henderson, an integral if ineffectual presence until now, swung a corner in from the right, which after some minor pinball in the box, landed at the feet of Liam Fontaine who, while moving away from the goal smashed the ball into the top right-hand corner.
The second-half was much of the same, Hibs dominating the Dingwall team in possession with County consistently looking a threat on the break. It just wasn’t to be for the Easter Road team however, with Cummings and Stokes ineffectual up front, shots from both wayward.
Early in the half Hibs came as close to a second as they were ever going to get with Cummings after a cross from Gray was deflected off the striker towards the goal from three yards out, only for the ball to flash past the post.
That set the pattern for the second half with Hibs pushing for a second without ever really looking like nicking it, and County looking dangerous on the counter. Almost inevitably in the 89th minute County secured the League Cup with a superb counter-attacking goal. First-half goalscorer Michael Gardyne raced forward, and with a cross into the six yard box, Alex Schalk couldn’t miss after Fontaine’s attempted clearance landed at the feet of the Dutch midfielder two yards out.
Cue rapturous celebrations from the County fans, and aggrieved acceptance that this was always in the script from Hibernian.
Image courtesy of Daniel.