A Christian Doidge hat-trick saw Hibs book their place in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup as they overcame a stubborn Dundee United in a see-saw tie at Easter Road.
United were backed by a boisterous away end as they sought, in vain, to continue their 14-match unbeaten run. It’s a run that has seen the Tangerines all but seal promotion back to the Premiership, as they boast an 18-point lead at the top of the Championship.
Cup games such as this give Robbie Nielson and his side an opportunity to pit their wits against some of Scotland’s big boys, and judging by their showing at Easter Road they will not struggle to adapt to life back in the top division.
That is if they can keep hold of red-hot goal-scorer Lawrence Shankland. 23 league goals and a further three in other competitions marks the forward, who is reportedly being eyed up by Stoke City, as one of the hottest prospects in Scottish football.
It was no surprise when Shankland netted his 27th goal of the season on the night. A cross from right-back Liam Smith was expertly chested down by the Scot, who then swivelled and unleashed a venomous half-volley beyond the grasp of Hibs ‘keeper Ofir Marciano.
A half chance, but then that is all Shankland needs to ensure the net bulges. Ten minutes in and Dundee United led 1-0.
Frustration grew around a sparse Easter Road as numerous Hibs chances went begging. Make-shift defensive midfielder Steven Whittaker twice found himself in a goal-scoring position but was unable to find a finish on both occasions. His defensive DNA shone through as he blazed the second well over after a marauding run.
Hibs’ lack of end product was eventually put to rest by Scott Allan, who coolly slotted a penalty past Benjamin Siegrist, who was only a spectator as he dived the other way. Allan took the opportunity to remind the United fans of his quality, shrugging his shoulders right in front of all sorts of gestures from the orange army. The spot kick was well won by Martin Boyle, whose weaving run was too much for Calum Butcher. The sides went in level at half-time.
There was nothing to separate the sides in the 2-2 draw at Tannadice, and it looked as though it might take something special to find a winner on what was a cold, wet Edinburgh night.
Hibs’ number nine Christian Doidge looked to have provided it when he smashed in Joe Newell’s cross in the 59th minute. Hibs came from behind last weekend to beat Hamilton, but Jack Ross’ side were pegged back by Dundee substitute Adrian Sporle’s fortunate equaliser on 66 minutes. Smith was again the provider as Marciano was left helpless thanks to a big deflection off Lewis Stevenson.
2-2. We’d been here before.
Unlike the clash at Tannadice, there was no prospect of another replay. Avoiding extra time and the prospect of a shootout was enough for Newell and Doidge to combine again for the Hibees’ third. This time Doidge leapt highest to power in Newell’s pinpoint corner off the underside of the bar.
A 90th-minute corner was all Doidge needed to complete his hat-trick, slamming in the lose ball from yet another troubling Newell delivery. The former Forest Green man took the match ball with three confident finishes after he had seen numerous opportunities end up off-target in the first half.
With little to play for in the league, the Scottish Cup could be the chance to take something memorable from a markedly unmemorable 19/20 season for the Leith outfit. Rookie side BSC Glasgow, of the Lowland League, await in the fifth round.
Doidge and company will surely fancy themselves to book a place in the quarter-finals as their cup run continues.
Image Rights: Sam Bayliss