HIBERNIAN are looking forward to Sunday afternoon at Rugby Park but all they can see is Hampden in May.
It is a sight to behold for a club who are now only browsing in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, a place in the bottom six causing the Edinburgh side to simply glance at the closing fixtures of the league campaign while craning their necks to try to get a better look at a William Hill Scottish Cup final with Celtic. The two clubs will not kick off until May 26, but the build-up is already under way.
It is common practice for those faced with such an auspicious occasion to look every other which way, to dress the conversation in cliche and take it one game at a time, but all that seems unnecessary for Hibs. The effects of a derby with Hearts on May 12 will linger longer and there have been voices on both sides talking up the value of finishing above each other in the league table, yet it is a match which has become more an act of civil duty than anything more tangible. Any satisfaction from holding a higher league place than their city rivals would be readily cast aside were Hibs to get their hands on the cup.
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An appearance against such as Kilmarnock this weekend will seem distorted if reflected in a major trophy. A draw on Saturday in which the Easter Road side shared six goals with St Mirren unexpectedly held the attention, since the tumult was only evened out when Leigh Griffiths scored with four minutes to go, although any meaning from the result will likely be applied to the Scottish Cup rather than the league table. Hibs are ninth, not that anyone asked.
The final league matches of the campaign might have come to act as auditions for those desperate to retain a starting position at Hampden, but that has not been played out in results. Hibs have not won in the Premier League since February 16 – a 1-0 defeat of St Mirren – and it can be considered that many of the squad have become comfortable regarding their place in the final. Only Griffiths has impressed consistently, the on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers striker having raised his tally to 27 goals for the season.
There are one or two who have sought prominence with a similar verve; teenagers Danny Handling and Alex Harris forming an intermittently dynamic duo in the Hibs midfield in the past three matches, although there remains a more pressing need for the defence to team up. St Mirren reduced them to rubble by shelling the Hibs penalty area with three crosses. "These costly little mistakes are killing us," said Ryan McGivern, the Hibs full-back.
Such a pained expression was evident among the visitors too; their point not enough to smother a protracted risk of relegation. That Dundee can still catch them will irk the Paisley side, with Craig Samson saying his own contract situation "does not matter" as a result. It soon will if St Mirren are able to belatedly shake off Dundee, the goalkeeper having turned down an extension beyond the end of the season and being linked with Motherwell. "My contract negotiations are done," he added.