With the buzz about a billionaire investor still fresh and a major Hampden showpiece fixture just around the corner, Hibs were always going to have to do something spectacular to grab the attention of supporters on a cold night at Easter Road.
Throwing away a two-goal lead, the second time that’s happened on Nick Montgomery’s watch, wasn’t quite what anyone had in mind.
With news of Bournemouth owner Bill Foley’s potential investment breaking just before kick-off, and Jair Tavares scoring his first Hibs goal – a mere 17 months or so after signing – to make it 2-0 early in the second half, it looked for long enough as if the feelgood factor around Easter Road would carry the home side through to a deserved victory.
A deflected Elie Youan strike had already put Hibs one up when Tavares effectively – or so we thought - put the contest beyond dogged Ross County with 54 minutes gone.
His brilliant strike to was celebrated with glee by supporters who know just how hard life has been for the 22-year-old, completely frozen out of the first team picture by Lee Johnson – but handed a fresh start by Montgomery.
But everything that had gone into such a stirring performance, from the personal narrative arc of one player to the collective efforts of four stand-ins drafted into a much-changed starting XI, was squandered as County were allowed to claw their way back into the game.
An Allan Delferriere own goal and a Jordan White volley did the damage for the visitors. And left Hibs feeling just a little winded as they head to Hampden for Saturday’s Viaplay Cup semi-final against Aberdeen.
It had all started so well for them, too, with Tavares causing havoc on the left wing and Youan doing his thing on the right.
The pair of wide men very nearly combined for an opener after 21 minutes, Tavares seeing his goal-bound shot blocked after an artful run and accurate cutback by Youan, as the fluid Hibs ‘front four’ went to work on the visitors.
James Brown came close with a shot from a tight angle at the other end, Jojo Wollacott – making his first start in almost three months – glad to see his effort fly across goal.
Le Fondre wasn’t far away with a left-footed shot just before the half-hour mark, Lewis Miller’s long throw into the visitors’ box only half cleared – and returned with interest.
And home pressure finally paid off, with the aid of a fortunate deflection, as Youan dribbling across the edge of the penalty box and sending in a low shot that spun past the helpless Ross Laidlaw. County’s Scott Allardice, the unlucky midfielder who got an inadvertent touch on the ball, could hardly be blamed for getting in the way.
One up and cruising, Hibs doubled their lead early in the second half, thanks to a beautiful, dinked pass down the left wing by Levitt – and a thumping finish by Tavares, who carried the ball towards goal and squared up Laidlaw before beating the former Hibs goalie at his near post with a venomous strike.
Cue the collapse, as Wollacott came for – and missed – a nothing ball into he box with 74 minutes gone, leaving Delferriere unable to get out of the way as he turned it into his own net.
Eight minutes later, White showed excellent control and strength to beat Wollacot from close range.
That was the end of the scoring, despite a couple of close calls at either end, on a night when so much promise had been allowed to slip away.