Simplicity doesn’t tend to be the Hibernian way. Yet, the knock-out deliveries in an engrossing heavyweight contest at the Falkirk Stadium made it plain that successfully stepping up from the Championship will surely centre on keeping Jason Cummings at the club.
The 21-year-old’s predatory instincts propelled the Scottish Cup winners’ victory on an afternoon that marked new manager Neil Lennon’s league bow. At full-time, the Northern Irishman gave the I’m-not-worthy gesture to the 1,984 travelling fans that made up the crowd inside the round – 6,458 – the second highest in the country yesterday. Really, though, all the veneration ought to have been directed to Cummings for a contribution that was utterly conclusive.
With a double, the striker provided the dazzle for a Hibs team that was more direct and dogged than typically so under Lennon’s predecessor Alan Stubbs. The club’s first Scottish Cup-snaring manager in 114 years may have been wooed by life in England in taking over at Championship Rotherham. Hibs and Cummings are of no mind for the prized playing asset at Easter Road to go the same way, judging by the out-of-hand rejection of a seven-figure sum from League One Peterborough.
Why that was a necessity was demonstrated with his clinching second goal in the 48th minute that resulted from strike partner Grant Holt sweeping the ball forward for Cummings to zip through on goal, holding off Luca Gasparotto and spearing an effort into the top corner. A fearsome finish, he had given his team the lead only 88 seconds in when Danny Rogers pushed a James Keatings drive into the middle of the goal for him to tap in from 16 yards, only for Craig Sibbald to equalise soon after with a beamer of a 25-yard drive.
“I thought he was fantastic today from start to finish. He was a real pest, a real thorn in their side and could have had a hat-trick by half-time,” Lennon said of Cummings. “It was a top performance, He showed a turn of pace I didn’t think he had and he signed a new contract and he’s worked really hard pre-season, not just on his football but on his fitness levels, and you can see he’s getting the rewards for it early on.”
The Hibs manager had no doubts the reward of three points over one of the teams expected to block their path to a top flight return was fully warranted while praising the quality of the Bairns’ goal.
“You can’t give Sibbald that amount of time,” Lennon said. “It’s a fantastic goal and you have to hold your hands up sometimes and say well done son. Our reaction was okay. I felt we could have showed a bit more composure at times on the ball. Second half I thought we managed the game very well. We scored again early and had good control of the game for long periods. Although we looked more of a threat first half, I thought we managed the game a lot better second half.”
Falkirk manager Peter Houston was in magnanimous mood about the outcome. He didn’t cling to the excuse of a possible handball from Cummings in getting in behind Gasparotto for the winner. And he would have no truck with the appeals for a penalty when Lee Miller went to ground near the close.
“They’ve said that in the dressing room [it was a handball], but I never saw it. Handball or not, though, Luca should be doing better. But he’s young and he’ll learn – and sometimes you learn more from bad experiences.
“No, [it was not a penalty]. He went down to easy. There might have been contact but not enough for me to start claiming a penalty.
“We changed out system to match up with their three. But you have to get your line right and if there’s no pressure on the ball you have to drop to kill the space and we just didn’t get it right. In other games you might get away with that – but we didn’t because of the class of Cummings.”