ABERDEEN yesterday clawed the holders’ fingers off the Cup to earn themselves a tilt at either Rangers or Celtic back at Hampden on May 27.
In what was a never less than enthralling semi-final, the Dons withstood a dramatic Hibs fightback to finish as victors.
From start to finish this one never let up – one of the most memorable images of the day that of Hibs keeper Ofir Marciano testing his opposite number with a powerful header in the dying stages.
Yet for all the applause the Edinburgh side received from their fans at the final whistle, the fact remained they were the architects of their own downfall, with all three goals at least in part self-inflicted.
The first was as near instant as it could be, taking a mere 13 seconds to arrive.
Hibs lost possession straight from kick-off when Graeme Shinnie emerged from a cluster of Dons players who had swarmed round John McGinn to toe-poke it forward.
Everything should have been fine, the ball breaking to Marvin Bartley in midfield who spun and shovelled the ball back to Darren McGregor.
Inexplicably, the defender chose that moment to play an under-hit pass across the backline to Efe Ambrose.
Adam Rooney, scarcely able to believe his luck, darted in to intercept then strode past both the Nigerian and the desperate McGregor.
That let the Dons striker through, one-on-one with Marciano, a match up he showed casual disdain for by sweeping the ball into the corner from just outside the box.
It was a classy finish from Rooney, all the more impressive for being produced at a time when most players would have been expecting to ease themselves into the match.
From a Hibs perspective, it was atrocious, as it put them in the position of having to chase the game and eased the pressure on opponents who had arrived burdened by a decidedly dodgy record at the national stadium.
In their last 11 visits to Hampden since winning the League Cup in 1995, they had won just twice.
Neil Lennon clearly knew it, for he was the very picture of agitation on the sidelines, arms whirling as he implored his players to give him more.
He got it, but not before their deficit was doubled with the second goal at least as bad in terms of self-sabotage.
Fraser Fyvie’s foul on Kenny McLean gave Aberdeen a free-kick wide on the wing.
With a tight angle to defend plus a wall to protect him, Marciano would never have expected to be beaten at his near post.
Yet that was what happened, Dylan McGeouch inexplicably leaving his position and Ryan Christie taking advantage to shoot into the space he vacated – and into the net.
And, just like that, it was 2-0.
Lennon acted, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation with an unusually early substitution.
Off came Fyvie, his last action to ditch an offered coat on the track, and on in his place came Grant Holt.
The midfielder might have been advised to leave his show of petulance for behind closed doors because he was left looking foolish 120 seconds later when his replacement grabbed a goal.
Holt was brought in for his guile and experience and both were in evidence in a classic striker’s goal. Martin Boyle drove down the right and the sub kept pace, cleverly weaving his way between Ash Taylor and Shay Logan to get himself on the end of the back-post cross.
He rose high, headed low. The ball bounced up and into the net for 2-1.
The Dons, up until then so comfortable, were spooked by the concession and by Holt in general from then on.
Derek McInnes turned to his bench and brought on Anthony O’Connor in place of Christie.
This time the switch had the opposite effect with Hibs capitalising on the indecision caused by the defensive reshuffle from a back four to a five to grab an equaliser.
And it was McGeouch, villain at Aberdeen’s second, who was the hero, driving in and exchanging passes with Holt before passing the ball into the far corner of the net.
Hibs supporters went wild and they were not alone, their manager racing all the way to the corner flag and back in celebration.
If it was an understandable release of emotion, it was also a little premature.
For the tie had another twist with the Dons retaking the lead with five minutes remaining.
Again it was agony for the Hibs manager to watch with Jonny Hayes effort finding the net thanks to a brutal deflection off McGregor’s shin.
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