Hibernian 1 - 2 Aberdeen: Hibs fail to win again as Dons miss out on Europe
It is a season that has fallen short in matching last year’s record breaking campaign back in the Premiership, Hibernian finishing some 13 points worse off in what has been something of a turbulent season.
Despite failing to win any of their five post-split Premiership fixtures, head coach Paul Heckingbottom, who steadied the ship when he replaced Neil Lennon in February, envisages the Leith outfit being in European contention this time next May.
For long spells in this match, Hibs actually outplayed their opponents, taking a deserved 26th minute lead through Marc McNulty before being pegged back by Sam Cosgrove and James Wilson efforts either side of the break.
Pockets of supporters remained to applaud the Hibs team on their customary end of the season lap of honour.
For some, it was also farewell, Hibs announcing on Saturday that they had taken up the option to invoke the break clause in midfielder Mark Milligan’s contract.
“It was a killer for me,” remarked Heckingbottom.
“You make decisions and people say it’s part of the game and it is, but he’s a real good bloke and he’s done great for me.
“He’s done great but you have to trust your gut and that’s what I’ve done.”
Livingston-bound Marvin Bartley was afforded a rapturous standing ovation when he was introduced in the 64th minute, with David Gray also handing him the armband for the closing stages in what was a touching gesture.
It remains to be seen whether Hibs will be able to re-sign striker McNulty and midfielder Stephane Omeonga from Coventry City and Genoa respectively following successful loan spells.
Despite the result, Heckingbottom was in bullish mood about the future.
“Can we compete with these boys at the top? Yeah, but we haven’t beaten one of them,” said the former Leeds United and Barnsley manager.
“We want to beat these guys because you’re not telling me they’re a better team than us.
“They deserve to be where they are because they were clinical, strong, dogged and that’s why they were pushing for European places.
“That’s where we want to be. We’ve got nothing to fear, nothing at all.
“But we got punished for two errors so let’s not make any. We have to be clinical at the other end.”
Aberdeen were the team that had it all to play for, however, during a high-octane start it was Hibs who took the game to their visitors.
After some early chances came and went, Hibs’ dominance paid off when they took the lead through McNulty.
The Scotland internationalist slotted the ball beyond Tomas Cerny but credit must go to Fraser Murray for a deft assist that flummoxed the flat-footed Dons rearguard.
The visitors levelled two minutes before the break when Consgrove got on the end of Connor McLennan’s low cross to fire beyond Ofir Marciano from close range.
A flowing moving involving Cosgrove and Stevie May in the 63rd minute culminated in Wilson netting the winner from inside the area.
The margin of victory could have been wider but Cosgrove had a penalty saved by Marciano in injury-time after Gray felled Gary Mackay-Steven.
Kilmarnock’s win over Rangers meant Aberdeen missed out on an automatic Europa League place on goal difference.
Another route into Europe remains available but it involves Celtic having to beat Hearts in next weekend’s Scottish Cup final.
“Kilmarnock have managed to beat Rangers and that’s ultimately got them their 67 points and I think we have to congratulate that, that’s good shooting from them,” said Dons manager Derek McInnes.
“We’re dependent on Celtic doing the job next week and getting into Europe that way.
“Ultimately we have to congratulate Kilmarnock but I’m still proud of my players’ efforts throughout the season.”