Hibernian v Aberdeen 22nd April 2013

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From all the grounds I have visited over the years, Easter Road, for some reason has escaped me! However, we are through in Edinburgh for the ESPN Live Monday night showing of, Hibernian versus Aberdeen.

I had been advised by a native from the capital, that I may be better getting the train to Leith due to the traffic. I thought it may be quieter on the roads as it was outwith the weekend, but that was to be a grave error of judgement. I left work early to go home and change, and had a rough idea of when to be on our way, for what was a 7.30pm kick off. What I was also counting on, was that the kids would have been fed, suffice to say that was not the case!

We made good progress through Glasgow, but then got snarled up in the Leith rush hour traffic. By the time we were near the ground, it was ten minutes before kick off, and we still had to collect the tickets. I eventually ditched the car just up from the ground, on London Road and we did a power walk down to the ticket office!

The game was just about to kick off as we queued outside, I took a quick couple of pictures and went into the Main Stand. The tickets we had were for near the half way line allegedly, but we just took the closest vacant ones available.

The games between both teams this season have not yielded many goals, however it had all the hallmarks of being a decent spectacle due to recent events at both clubs. Last weekend, Hibernian came from three goals down to Falkirk at Hampden Park, in the Scottish Cup Semi Final, to eventually win 4-3. It meant a second successive Cup Final appearance for Manager, Pat Fenlon as he seeks to rectify the shambles that was last season’s showpiece against city rivals, Hearts.

In the other dug out, Derek McInnes was in charge for the first time following his recent appointment as Dons Manager, after Craig Brown announced his retirement.

Hibs have relied again on their talisman, Leigh Griffiths this season, not only for his goals but his presence and all round contribution to the team. At the other end, they also have possibly the best goalkeeper at Easter Road for a few years in Englishman, Ben Williams. At the back, James McPake is a regular in the centre of defence, a guy who has impressed me and disappointed in almost equal measure. There have been moments he can control and hold the defence together like a Franco Baresi, then give the ball away, mistime a challenge and look more like Frank Spencer!

At the end of February this year, midfielder, Kevin Thomson returned to Hibernian, the place it all began for him, following his release from Middlesbrough. Having had an injury ravaged couple of years on Teeside, he was initially training with the Hibs first team, but signed a contract in March to play for free, until the end of the season.

For this game, Pat Fenlon had to do without the suspended Ryan McGivern, along with Paul Cairney and Scott Robertson, who were injured. Youngsters, Alex Harris and Danny Handling started in midfield, with Eoin Doyle partnering Griffiths up front.

Aberdeen made only two changes from their last match, with Clark Robertson and Rob Milsom replacing Gary Naysmith and Scott Vernon. The Dons can call upon the experience of goalkeeper, Jamie Langfield, along with Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds, on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, at the back. Their main player in midfield is Gavin Rae, with the creativity in the side coming from Jonny Hayes and quite possibly, Aberdeen’s player of the year, Niall McGinn.

We got seated, literally a couple of minutes just after kick off, with Hibs starting possibly the brighter of the two sides. The pitch looked a bit dry and rutted in places and the ball spent a lot of time in the air, which was surprising as both Managers do tend to try and play on the deck, but this was maybe a ‘Plan B’ tactic due to the pitch.

After a quarter of an hour played, there were a couple of crosses into the box for Aberdeen by McGinn and Hayes, neither of which found Josh Magennis or a red shirted player. Hibs then had a half chance when Thomson’s free kick on the half way line was flicked on by McPake in the box for Griffiths, however, he went for the spectacular overhead kick, which went wide of Langfield’s goal.

With twenty five minutes played, Hibs had a great opportunity to break the deadlock. A high ball played over the Aberdeen defence was latched onto by Leigh Griffiths, and although he maybe could have taken the ball in further, his powerful drive was parried by Jamie Langfield, then cleared.

Both sides were playing high up the park, meaning that any decent through pass or high ball over the top, resulted in the Assistants flagging for offside. It was grim to watch, and the thought that this match was being beamed around the globe, was enough to give you the fear! It proved to be almost twice as bad for the ESPN camera man on the near touch line. The ball was cleared into the stand, and a fan threw it back onto the pitch. With the camera mans focus being on the game, he would have got the fright of his life as it whacked him on the back of the head!

There were no other incidents of note, and referee, Steven McLean thankfully brought the first half to an end. Maybe the half time “10 second challenge” would brighten things up? Unfortunately, no, this proved to be much in line with the first half action! One of the participants was an older looking gent, wearing what looked like various bits of retro kit of the Pat Stanton and Arthur Duncan era! There were no goals produced, and it was reminisce of the episode in ‘Father Ted’ when they had the over 75’s five a side football championship!

The second half got underway, and it started similarly to the first, with Hibs the better side. Three minutes in, Jamie Langfield made a comfortable save from Handling’s side foot shot, following a good cut back from Griffiths on the left wing. Ten minutes later, Hibs again threatened when a Clancy cross was met by Doyle, but his shot came off the post and was cleared.

Aberdeen were clearly needing to alter their game plan, and just after the hour, Derek McInnes made a positive double change, with midfielder, Peter Pawlett replacing Milsom, and Vernon on for Magennis.

Alex Harris went close for the home side when his shot from the edge of the box was blocked by Shaughnessy. With fifteen minutes left, it was Hibs who nearly scored again. Griffiths’ right wing corner was headed goal wards by Paul Hanlon, but Pawlett was well positioned on the goal line to clear.

Aberdeen had created very little opportunities in the whole game let alone the second half, with Niall McGinn, bordering anonymous. With ten minutes left, having been involved at one end moments before, Hanlon was back at the other, clearing a Hayes cross before Vernon could get his head on it.

On eighty six minutes, Leigh Griffiths conjured up a bit of magic, when he found himself out on the right hand side some thirty yards from goal. There did not appear to be any danger, but the space opened up and his rasping shot at goal forced Langfield into a decent save.

There were no further chances for either side, the game finished goalless and the two minutes of added time could not come quick enough! It meant an unbeaten start and a clean sheet for Derek McInnes, though Hibs probably deserved to win the match based on possession and chances created.

Given it was Live on television, this was not the greatest advert for the SPL, yet I have been at worse games so far this season. The crowd of 8,326 was slightly disappointing, but some of the patter where we sat was good and the atmosphere was decent I thought, with a lot of the noise generated by Hibs ‘Sect 43’ fans group who were high up in the East Stand.

You could argue that it was end of season fare, post split and nothing to play for, but that was not the case. Hibs have players looking to gain a starting place in the Scottish Cup Final and Aberdeen have a number of players out of contract in the summer and looking to impress the new Manager.

I have to say I was quite impressed with the now complete, new look Easter Road stadium. Situated just off busy roads and densely populated housing and shops, it has a very plush, modern look about it both inside and out, befitting of any twenty first century football stadia. It has been a job in progress, with each stand being built at various times and some years apart since the mid 1990s.

During the 1994/95 season, work began on both the North and South Stands, which are the areas behind both goals. The North Stand which is to the left if you were standing at the Main Stand or viewing on television. It is for the home support and was renamed “The Famous Five Stand” shortly after completion, as a tribute to the successful Hibernian side of the 1950s.

Both are two tiered and have a slightly strange appearance in the respect that they look as if a corner has been cut off (see photo). I am unsure if this was to do with the angle of where the stadium is situated, building design or planning permission issues. Maybe by having more Perspex than seats, it would allow in more sunlight for the pitch, I will need to clarify with the handful of ‘Hibees’ that I know!

The old (West) Main Stand was rebuilt and completed in 2001, and is where we watched this game from. Again, this is a two tiered structure that contains corporate seating and is where the tunnel and dug outs are situated.

The last piece of the stadium jigsaw, was the new 6,500 seater East Stand, replacing the old terracing in 2010. This is a steep, single tier stand designated for the home supporters, and given the sound generated from it, this is where the ‘singing section’ is.

The admission prices were slightly reduced for this game, with adult tickets £20 instead of £22 and concessions £10 instead of £12, which is reasonable by SPL standard. The food prices are also in line with other clubs in the division, which are over priced in my opinion and is a subject that has been covered already in other stadium write ups!

The staff we spoke with at the main entrance, and the ticket office were helpful and friendly which is always a good start. Getting to Easter Road can be difficult, and getting stuck in traffic was probably the only downside of an otherwise very good stadium visit.

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