WHEN your side has just carelessly thrown away certain victory at home against a major play-off rival, squandering a two-goal advantage in the process, some harsh words are in order. A straight-talker is required.
Evidently, Hibernian striker Martin Boyle is just the man for such an occasion.
Boyle, making his first start since arriving at Easter Road on loan from Dundee, pulled no punches in assessing his own failings, and those of his new team-mates, following an utterly engrossing 3-3 draw in Leith.
Hibs, battling a whipping wind and incessant snow, were excellent in the first half – a sloppily conceded goal to John Baird aside – and should have had the points in the bag thanks to a Jason Cummings hat-trick.
However, their second-half showing was lacklustre, nervous and downright ragged defensively, allowing a strike by Peter Grant and a Liam Craig own goal to restore parity.
There was also the small matter of Boyle missing an open goal, an incident which head coach Alan Stubbs described as “a defining moment”.
That is perhaps harsh on Boyle, given his profligacy would have been irrelevant if Hibs had been able to defend the simplest of set-pieces.
Nevertheless, he did not shy away from the criticism which will head Hibs’ way after the careless second half which led to them slipping eight points behind second-placed Rangers and 21 adrift of league leaders Hearts.
“I think we let ourselves down majorly,” said the 21-year-old. “When you’re 3-1 up at half-time to only come away with a draw does feel like a defeat. I think we thought the game was won at half-time and clearly it wasn’t. We were slack and it’s two points dropped. With a two-goal lead at half-time, they’ve got to come out and you know you’ll get opportunities in the game like the one I had, but we didn’t take them and paid the price. We just can’t afford to drop points like that.”
In the first period Boyle’s strike partner, Cummings, monopolise the glory – as has been the case with regularity in recent weeks – with a dead-eyed display of finishing. He opened the scoring after 11 minutes, finding space inside the box to curl a left-footed drive towards the far corner of the net. Jamie MacDonald got his right hand to the ball and should have kept it out, but it trickled over the line.
It would not be his last mistake of the afternoon at a ground where the former Hearts goalkeeper has so often excelled.
Baird levelled the encounter against the run of play after the diminutive forward – the only Falkirk attacker in the box at the time – was somehow allowed an unimpeded header, superbly guiding a Keiran Duffie delivery into the net.
But Cummings was in irrepressible mood and showed a real striker’s instinct to turn home his second of the game from close-range after Liam Fontaine had helped a Scott Allan corner towards goal.
The final goal of Cummings’ hat-trick – the first treble of his senior career – was largely down to the good work of Boyle. He scampered on to an Allan through pass and skipped around Falkirk ’keeper MacDonald, who had foolishly dashed out of his area, before delivering a pinpoint cross for the 19-year-old to nod into an empty net.
Half-time. Three-one. Game, set and match. There should have been no way back for Falkirk. Boyle could have made it four after the break when he once again showed pace and timing to spring the Falkirk offside trap. He skipped around MacDonald with ease but, with the goal gaping, he knocked the ball wide of the post. “I think I’ve let myself down and a few team-mates today,” Boyle added, clearly in no mood to mitigate his miss. “It was an easy chance.”
A Craig own goal just prior to the hour mark then halved arrears, the Hibs skipper turning a Grant header into his own net after the big defender had been allowed a free header from a Craig Sibbald corner.
Grant completed the comeback seven minutes later, once again taking advantage of statuesque defending to latch on to a deep Mark Kerr free kick and fire a low shot past Mark Oxley.
Fontaine saw two headers flash wide of the post, while Franck Dja Djedje’s first action after coming on as a late substitute for his Hibs debut was to skew an inviting header closer to the corner flag than the target.
Falkirk, who also had a first-half Baird goal chalked off, could have nicked it, Oxley making a spectacular last save to deny Blair Alston’s ferocious late free kick from all of 35 yards. Baird added: “To come back after being 3-1 down at half-time shows brilliant character.”