Alex Gogic feels the pain as Hibs discover that just because there is the will, there's isn't always a way
A team who have accepted the praise they’ve, quite rightly, been given this term for finding a way to grind out results, on Saturday, at Hampden, in their biggest game of the season thus far, and against their biggest rivals, that ability deserted Hibs.
Instead, at the end of a closely-fought battle, they were the ones left licking their wounds and bemoaning the fine margins that denied them a place in the 2020 Scottish Cup final.
While Liam Boyce buried his extra time spot kick for Hearts, Hibs’ leading scorer was uncharacteristically profligate with his penalty, sending it just an inch or two too high, watching in agony as it crashed off the bar of Craig Gordon’s goal.
There were other chances, some spectacularly saved, others squandered, and there were further shouts for a penalty, controversially denied, as time ebbed away.
“Doidgey was fouled first but they weren’t sure about it,” lamented midfielder Alex Gogic. “I think he was scared to give the pen. I thought it was a pen for the one on [Martin] Boyle but, at that kind of time, it is a big decision for [the referee] to make.
“When we asked what happened, they were all saying different stuff. But we can’t do anything about that now. We tried our best.”
Those were the finest of margins. But, where they have tended to find answers, with just two defeats in league action helping them to third place in the Premiership and a 100% record in the Betfred Cup group stages securing them pole position in the quest to progress to the knockout rounds, the solution and the luck was missing against their capital foes.
“Everyone gave all they’ve got but their goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, made some unbelievable saves,” added the freshly-capped Cypriot defender. “Especially Nisbet’s header [in the first half] and [Christian] Doidge’s scissor kick towards the end. We gave it our best – it’s just that our penalty didn’t go in and their one did.”
With so little to separate the sides, if someone had said before the match that the Easter Road outfit would ultimately have to rely on Nisbet at one end and goalkeeper Ofir Marciano at the other, most Hibs fans would have approached the semi finals in even more buoyant mood. Such has been the positive imprint made by both on the Leith side’s season.
One is the second best striker in the nation’s top flight, when it comes to finding the net, the other has the second highest number of clean sheets.
Yet, when it came to the two key moments of the game, the two spot-kicks, neither emerged the hero.
There was little the Israeli could have done to stop Boyce’s confidently-hit strike, but Nisbet’s effort no doubt played through the young striker’s mind like a horror movie on a loop as he tried to nod off to sleep on Saturday night.
Perhaps, the performance of a former Scotland and Celtic keeper, at home at Hampden, on international and club duty, played on his mind as he stepped up, looking to give his team the lead for the first time in the game. Having watched him dive down to his right to so impressively deny him what appeared a certain goal in that opening 45 minutes, he gave his effort too much flight.
“He’s been amazing this season,'' attested Gogic, unwilling to blame his fellow summer signing for the evening’s disappointment. “It was just a matter of hitting it a bit lower. If he had, it would have been a perfect pen. Unfortunately it goes high, but we are all together. We lose together. We have to pick our heads back up and go again.
“Sometimes finals and semi-finals can be sore or they can be full of happiness. This time it is sore for all of us but we have to try to get past it quickly because we have the league to focus on now. And we also have the cups. We want to try to get in this position again and next time go to the final.
“We can’t let this change anything. We know where we are in the league and how well we have been doing. It’s a sore one now, but we have to be prepared and focused for the game on Friday.”
That game is the second head to head of the season. Gogic notably missed out on the first one, sidelined by a false positive during covid testing and his absence was felt. This week he hopes to be in his usual place in the middle of the park, where he has developed a much-lauded partnership with Joe Newell, where they bring the best out of each other.
But while there is quality in the side, on Saturday, against Hearts, as is usual in derbies, more was needed.
A side still smarting from being dumped into the Championship as the SPFL looked for a way to curtail last season, the Jambos had the bit between their teeth. They weren’t the only ones, insisted Gogic.
“Both teams knew how much it meant. For us, it was huge. And for them too. It would have been even more amazing with fans and an atmosphere but it didn’t affect the game on the pitch.
“Whether they are angry or not, we have to look at ourselves. Of course they want to prove a point to everyone, but I think we were the better team, to be honest. But sometimes you don’t win even when you play better.
“We are still in competitions and cups. We just have to make sure we get here again and next time go to the final.”
A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.