Following on from yesterday’s Championship clash between two sides that many expect to finish in the bottom half of the table, a second Championship game was on the cards.
Today’s match was between two of the bigger teams in the division who have been tipped to challenge for promotion this season.
Hibs are a side that most would associate with top flight football, and there was a sense of shock when they were relegated two years ago. Having faced strong Hearts and Rangers sides previously in their battle for promotion, many feel that this is their best chance to make a long awaited return to the Premiership.
Perhaps their closest challenger for the title (according to the bookies at least) are today’s opponent, Dundee United.
The game was the first live Championship game on Sky this season, which reflected the expectation of a good game in a potential title race.
That was why the game kicked off at midday. I heard some moans about the time from supporters of both clubs, with most agreeing that even the often unpopular kickoff time of 12.45 would be preferable.
Having lived with Hearts and Hibs fans at various points in the last five years, I have become well versed in the arguments and jibes between both sets of supporters. Until recently Hearts fans seemed to hold the advantage with (constant) taunts of ‘5-1’ and gloating about ‘1902.’
The term ‘Hibsed it’ came to represent snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, something which the Leith side did well.
The balance shifted somewhat after May’s Scottish Cup final. The Hampden ‘hoodoo’, which meant a 114 year wait between Cup wins finally came to an end.
Their victory came in an enthralling contest against Rangers. The 3-2 win sealed by a late David Gray header sparked scenes of jubilation on a par with any previous Hampden goal.
Friends describe the winning goal in the same way that one might describe a biblical miracle. A tear in the eye, goosebumps forming and voice breaking. ‘It was just unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it.’ The Hibees were shocked, overjoyed and confused all at the same time.
The nearly side had done it at last, and the ‘1902’ barb was no more.
The club have done everything possible to capitalise on this success, with the ‘Persevered’ phrase catching on and tickets for an evening in the presence of the Scottish Cup going for a fair sum of money.
After 114 years, who can blame them?
The man charged with building on the Cup glory with an overdue return to the top flight is the former Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
He has a very strong squad at his disposal with several talented players across the pitch. The likes of Jason Cummings, John McGinn and Fraser Fyvie are of a higher calibre than most Championship footballers.
That squad, and the perception of an easier league this season brings pressure and expectation.
That expectation wasn’t obvious when talking to Hibs fans before the game. The name of Dundee United seems to be enough to encourage caution amongst the home support, even if recent performances and results mean it is hardly justified.
I met my Dad before the game, which meant another day in the away end. I’ve written before about the away end experience, although today’s was quieter than is often the case.
Whether because Dundee United are not exactly on top form or because of the early kickoff, I’m not sure. Either way the number, over 1000, is a decent following.
Easter Road is a stadium in top condition. I remember being at the ground years ago with the East Stand being a small, aging structure with a limited capacity.
Now, it looks modern and impressive. It has added significantly to the feel of the ground. Easter Road has always been a great stadium but the renovation added an extra level of quality.
The club spent money from transfers on facilities rather than players, and while this might have been a source of frustration for some, perhaps the logic of the decision is becoming clearer as crowds increase.
The remaining stands are just big enough to be filled for the bigger games, such as a derby against Hearts.
It is a smart and well designed stadium.
Arriving in the ground just a couple of minutes after kickoff, it was clear that Hibs were already on top.
They were creating chances and causing a shaky Dundee United defence all kinds of trouble. The pace in the early part of the game was high, making life difficult for the lumbering tangerine defenders.
The home side were rewarded for their dominance with a goal in the 35th minute when James Keatings ran on to a through ball to smash the ball past Cammy Bell.
Given the way the game had gone to that point, those around me were only expecting things to get worse.
That it didn’t get worse is as much a reflection on Hibs as Dundee United.
In the second half they slowed the game down, often over passing and appearing hesitant in possession.
They failed to take the chances they created and they invited their opposition back in to the game.
The removal of Simon Murray from the game along with the addition of Tope Obadeyi and Cammy Smith changed the threat from United.
Hibs were punished for their profligacy from a corner as the hulking defender Edjenguele headed home an equaliser in the 68th minute.
That was Dundee United’s only real chance in the second half, with Hibs creating all the opportunities but having little to show for it.
A small number of home fans booed at full time, a sign of the frustration they felt at the meandering pace and lack of urgency on display from their side.
They remain favourites to win the league this season, and have a squad more than capable of doing so.
Their return to the top flight would certainly be welcomed, however if there was any doubt before today, that may not prove to be plain sailing.
Hibernian 1 Dundee United 1