Hibernian 3 Gretna 1: Benjelloun's fine romance hurts Gretna

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The Independent Football

Romance of the cup? Don't mention that in Gretna. The wedding town's dream of going back to Hampden Park for another Scottish Cup final was torn apart by a man who has rediscovered a passion for goals since going back home to marry his sweetheart.

Abdessalam Benjelloun was allowed to return to Morocco recently by John Collins to get married and puts his rich scoring vein down to cosy domesticity after bringing his wife back to Edinburgh. The Hibernian cult hero came off the bench yesterday to score one and draw an own goal out of the Gretna goalkeeper, Greg Fleming, to kill off last season's runners-up in a fine tie.

Hibernian are in the quarter-finals and able to consider Scottish football's most enduring case of unrequited love - the 105 years since they won this trophy. Easter Road spilled over with optimism on what was not just a response to a sunny afternoon in Edinburgh. John Collins's achievement in taking Hibernian into the CIS Cup final in midweek after just three months in the job has heightened ambitions of silverware.

Gretna dominated the early stages of the contest and Colin McMenamin was denied by Andy McNeil, the Hibernian goalkeeper, before a ricochet from Allan Jenkins crept narrowly wide and then McNeil's judgement allowed him to produce a fine save from Craig Barr's 30-yard shot. Hibernian took the warning seriously and went in front after 28 minutes. A delightful cross floated in to the back post by Scott Brown was met by the towering Rob Jones and his header flew into the roof of the net.

That settled the hosts. Steven Fletcher might have increased that advantage before the interval but his left-foot finish struck the goalkeeper's legs. Hibernian, though, stepped up their pursuit of a second goal by replacing the teenager Ross Campbell with Benjelloun, whose appearance off the bench in the CIS Cup semi -final was rewarded with a goal against St Johnstone.

The Moroccan international's elusiveness inside the box was underlined in the 54th minute when he played a central role in Hiberian doubling their lead. Ivan Sproule was the architect as his superb turn and pace carved Gretna open and although Chris Innes, the visiting captain, appeared to have snuffed out the danger with a tackle, Benjelloun climbed to his feet and guided a left-foot shot against the post. It bounced back out and hit the unfortunate goalkeeper, Fleming, on the back and rolled into the net.

Seven minutes later, Benjelloun scored the third and there was no doubt that this one belonged to him. Clever play by Steven Fletcher allowed the Moroccan to thrash an angled finish beyond Fleming.

Gretna gained compensation for their spirit and effort when Matthew Berkeley scored in the 80th minute, latching on to a poor clearance by Jones and clubbing his shot beyond McNeil.

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