This is Hearts story: Gordon's saves and giggles, oh the irony and oodles of resolve against Hibs
When Craig Gordon miraculously saves your netbound header and gets up laughing, you should know it’s Hearts’ day.
The goalkeeper’s defiance of Hibs became the catalyst for victory in an enthralling semi-final as his club reached their second successive Scottish Cup showpiece.
As Marius Zaliukas passed away at the tragically young age of 36, Gordon delivered a goalkeeping display to meet the approval of any previous cup-winning Hearts captain.
He first denied the Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet in the first half, then Alex Gogic, Joe Newell and Christian Doidge in extra-time. By the end of Hearts' hard-earned 2-1 victory at Hampden Park, there was only one man of the match.
Like he’d never left
Gordon rejoined Hearts from Celtic in June and promptly picked up where he left off in 2007: Making breathtaking saves, many of them to Hibs’ dismay.
It was the stop from Nisbet which set the tone and left viewers astounded that the game was still goalless. The forward connected with Martin Boyle’s right-sided cross for a downward header which was powering towards the net on 28 minutes.
Gordon had mere milliseconds to react but sprung down to his left to push the ball away with outstretched fingertips. He rose with a huge smile on his face, almost as if it was a routine stop. If that header had come at his predecessor Joel Pereira, it lands in Hearts’ net and Hibs go 1-0 ahead.
In extra-time, Gordon deflected Gogic’s 25-yard effort onto the post and held Newell’s shot despite an awkward deflection. Then came another impressive stop to repel Doidge’s overhead kick.
The most satisfying of wins
They all contributed massively to a hugely satisfying win for Hearts. Hibs had played ten more competitive games and were the Premiership club facing lower-league opponents, yet they got an almighty fright on Halloween and wound up out of the cup.
Two headers – one from Craig Wighton and one from Doidge – forced this tie into 30 minutes of extra-time. That chaotic period was decided by two penalties. Nisbet lashed his off Gordon’s crossbar before Liam Boyce converted his to secure Hearts’ place in the final on December 20.
Manager Robbie Neilson was seen screaming with euphoria as he sprinted into the arms of coaching staff at full-time. He was blamed by some supporters for Hearts’ Scottish Cup replay defeat by Hibs in 2016 – the year the Easter Road club ended their 114-year wait to lift the trophy.
Merited moment and irony
He deserved this moment. Likewise, Hearts deserved a break after a tortuous summer involving a controversial relegation, a court battle and an order to stop players training at Riccarton.
It was ironic that their triumph came at Hampden – the workplace of those behind many of the disputed decisions earlier this year.
Without injured winger Josh Ginnelly, Hearts produced yet more resolve against a strong Hibs side.
Indeed, character needed to be a prerequisite for both teams amid some very inclement weather. With gales swirling around Hampden and rain tipping from dark skies above, this was more like an old-fashioned League Cup tie than a Scottish Cup semi-final.
Coronavirus put paid to the scheduled last-four matches in the spring so this was the solution. Still no fans, sadly, for what would be a major footballing spectacle.
The story of the match
Hibs supporters have fond recent memories of lifting the cup, but the previous two Edinburgh derbies in Glasgow ended 5-1 and 4-0 to Hearts – both in this competition.
The preordained approach from Hearts made sense under the circumstances – test the opposing goalkeeper Ofir Marciano on the wet and slippery surface.
Hibs gained more of a foothold in midfield and changed the flow of play. Gaps in the Hearts rearguard began appearing.
Doidge slid a low ball across the penalty area after quarter of an hour. Kyle Magennis arrived on the run for a first-time shot which was crucially blocked by Michael Smith.
Boyle was finding space on the right and his curling delivery was met by Nisbet, only for Gordon to instinctively intervene with that aforementioned stop.
Neilson acted swiftly to shuffle his pack after the break with a decision which opened up this semi-final.
Steven Naismith and Peter Haring replaced Jamie Walker and Jordan Roberts in midfield. Wighton shunted up front beside Boyce as 4-2-3-1 became 4-4-2.
The impact was immediate as a move instigated by Naismith saw the ball find its way to Olly Lee on the right flank. His run and cross was met by Wighton at the back post for a downward header against the balance of Marciano and into the net.
Hibs were behind for only seven minutes, and it was another header which restored parity. Newell’s floated free-kick was glanced goalwards by the back of Doidge’s head as he hung in the air. Gordon scrambled in vain but the ball bounced into the corner of the net.
Undeterred, Hearts fashioned two further opportunities which could have secured their final slot.
Wighton had head in hands after failing to convert Lee’s low cutback. Then Naismith stroked a pass through to Boyce for a one-on-one with Marciano. The Northern Irishman shot when he should have at least forced a save.
The last of regulation time saw referee Willie Collum ignore two Hibs penalty claims. As Newell’s free-kick entered the Hearts box, Doidge went down under pressure from Halkett.
The defender rose to clear the loose ball and was challenged by Boyle, who also fell. Collum awarded Hearts a free-kick as Hibs screamed for a penalty.
They got one in extra-time when Mihai Popescu was judged to have fouled Newell. Nisbet fired it against the crossbar. Whether he felt unsettled facing Gordon after that earlier save, only he knows.
It was indeed a penalty which settled this tie. Boyce converted it after a foul by Paul McGinn on Hearts substitute Aidy White.
The Northern Irishman set off for a knee slide in the rain behind the goal, and with that Hearts glided into another Scottish Cup final.