Sorrow over as Hibs at last celebrate return to top flight
In fact, the Paisley side, who had been rock bottom as they headed into March, saw scorelines elsewhere elevate them to a seventh place finish that would have seemed all but impossible should anyone have had the audacity to even consider such a scenario ahead of the massive squad overhaul in January.
On the pitch, brothers John and Stephen McGinn embraced and celebrated their respective achievements, with the St Mirren midfielder, who had scored against Falkirk four weeks ago to hand the Leith side the title, taking some time out of St Mirren’s partying to observe the trophy presentation and watch his younger sibling pick up his winner’s medal and embark on his well-deserved lap of honour.
“He congratulated me and I congratulated him for winning the league,” said the influential Saints man. “I sat out at the end to enjoy the scenes and it’s been a great day for us both. It’s a day we can look back on when we’re older.”
It was a day when both teams did what was demanded of them. For different reasons neither wanted to lose. Neither did. And both earned just reward for the effort put into achieving their goals.
Grant Holt had opened the scoring in the 49th minute after Hibs’ McGinn had played a ball into the box and the home striker reacted most emphatically, fending off Gary McKenzie to nudge the ball into Billy O’Brien’s net. Rory Loy netted the vital equaliser in the 60th minute benefitting from a slight tactical tweak by manager Jack Ross which saw Stevie Mallan pushing up in support and playing the pass to the on-loan striker for him to slot away. Loy was one of ten players enlisted in the winter transfer window by Ross, who had inherited a team going nowhere but down and needed to do something drastic.
Wheeling and dealing to cut ties with unwanted players and free up enough of the budget to bring in guys he knew would aid the cause, he made widespread changes, which have paid off as the side fought its way to safety.
“I’m not going to lie. When I came in and looked at the table and saw the teams above us – I thought, ‘just get ninth and we can deal with the play-offs when they come’,” admitted Stephen McGinn, who was one of those mid-season additions, “so to get seventh is above anything we could have dreamed of. It’s been the best three or four months of my career by far.
“That feeling going over to see the fans at the end is hard to describe. I had goosebumps. The following we’ve had since January has been amazing and the fans have played their part as much as we have,” he said, adding that he hoped the majority of the squad could now be kept together, believing that would be good enough to see them challenge at the other end of the table next term.
“They’re enjoying the football we’re playing and even in the games we’ve lost, we’ve given everything. They can see that and relate to it.
“Even in my last spell here I don’t think there was ever a bond quite like the players and fans have got right now.”
The same could be said of the Hibs support and their players and management. A giant Thank You was paraded around the ground ahead of the trophy ceremony and underlined the symbiotic relationship between those in the stands and the men on the pitch.
“It was quite emotional. I have been in this position before and I know what winning a trophy means to me and to the club,” said on-loan Efe Ambrose, who will now assess his options before deciding where his future lies.
“For some guys it was their first time and they have been waiting for this occasion for two to three years.
“So you can understand why they were celebrating the way they did, although we have been celebrating for two or three weeks since we won the title!”
Manager Neil Lennon, who shared a massive hug with the man he took to Celtic and then brought to Hibs to shore up an injury-hit defence, said he would love to hold on to the Celtic defender and Ambrose himself refused to rule out a return next term. “Saturday was a special day for the fans and the club – and for Edinburgh – to see Hibs back in the Premiership.
“Winning trophies is what everyone wants to be part of and it was great for me to be part of this winning team and celebrate with these young guys who are hungry for success. You could see it in their eyes. They could not wait for this day. So it was quite emotional to see everyone connected with the club so excited.
“Winning trophies is a plus but it is about the philosophy of this club and the objectives – that’s what motivates me.”