Hibernian 3 Gretna 1: Youngsters keep Hibernian dreaming of cup double

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The Independent Online

John Collins' dream of winning both domestic cups in his first season in management remains alive with possibility today after another classy victory on Saturday, combined with a simultaneous Scottish Cup exit for Hibernian's great rivals, Hearts - the Cup holders lost 1-0 at Dunfermline - and then good fortune in yesterday's quarter-final draw.

Hibs' reward for beating Gretna, who lost to Hearts in last season's Cup final and are favourites to win the First Division, is a last-eight tie at Queen of the South, the lowest-ranked side in the competition, currently propping up Scotland's second tier.

The draw also handed Celtic the toughest match available without pairing them with Hibs: away at Inverness. Celtic yesterday eased through the fourth round, 4-1 at Livingston, after conceding first.

"We're in one Cup final already," said Collins, whose young team (average age 22 on Saturday) beat St Johnstone last week to reach a CIS Cup final against Kilmarnock. "It has to be the target to be in two now."

The match provided more evidence that Hibs play the most attractive football in Scotland. Youth, inexperience and the loss of their best players to bigger clubs are among the reasons they don't push the Old Firm in the league. They have lost four Scotland internationals in the last year. Garry O'Connor went to Lokomotiv Moscow. Derek Riordan, who scored twice for Celtic yesterday, and Gary Caldwell are now at Parkhead. Kevin Thomson has just joined Rangers. But they still have gems in all positions and play with pace, creativity and goal threat.

Scott Brown, 21 but rapidly maturing into a international pedigree midfielder, looked unencumbered by the past month's speculation about a move away from Easter Road and dictated play. His superb cross set up Rob Jones for the first goal, a header. And if he was not as showy as team-mate Abdessalam Benjelloun, 22, who was sublime after coming on at half-time, his shift was all the more impressive because he was man-marked.

Benjelloun, a Moroccan international, effectively scored Hibs' second goal, even if the record books will show an own goal by Gretna's goalkeeper, Greg Fleming. He hammered a shot which hit a post, bounced out, hit Fleming on the back, and rebounded in. He did score the third, a curling 20-yard pearler after dancing around multiple Gretna challenges. Gretna's consolation was scored by 19-year-old Matthew Berkeley with a low drive from a headed clearance.

Gretna's manager, Rowan Alexander, summed up Hibs by saying that he aspires to be like them when Gretna reach the SPL. "Slick. Creative. Confident on the ball. They express themselves." Silverware beckons.

Goals: Jones (28) 1-0; Fleming, og (54) 2-0; Benjelloun (59) 3-0; Berkeley (81) 3-1.

Hibernian (4-4-2): McNeil; Whittaker, Martis, Jones, Murphy; Sproule, Lynch, Scott Brown, Shiels (Beuzelin, 62); Campbell (Benjelloun, h-t), Fletcher (Stevenson, 67). Substitutes not used: Simon Brown (gk), McCann.

Gretna (4-1-4-1): Fleming; Barr, Canning, Innes, Grainger; Jenkins (O'Neil, 89); Berkeley, McGuffie, Paartalu, Graham; McMenamin (Grady, 81). Substitutes not used: Mathieson (gk), Nicholls, Skelton.

Referee: I Brines (Scotland).

Booked: Hibs Scott Brown, Martis, Lynch; Gretna Paartalu, Barr, McMenamin.

Man of the match: Scott Brown.

Attendance: 14,075.

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