PETER Houston’s post-match press conference on Saturday was less a review of the match just played than a series of barbed retorts aimed at opposition manager Alan Stubbs, whose own words a little earlier clearly cut deep.
It isn’t often that a managers’ spat is turned quite so personal as the one that developed in the bowels of Hampden following Hibs’ 1-0 defeat to Falkirk. Houston was naturally enough narked by Stubbs’ contention that Falkirk had ‘got lucky’. It isn’t often, however, that a manager calls into question the ability of an opposite number in quite such stark fashion.
Houston was speaking from a position of strength, since his side had just defeated Hibs for the third time in four matches this season. The other game was a draw but even on that occasion, Falkirk were left with the sensation of having won, after recovering from 3-1 down. They clearly have a successful method of dealing with Hibs and this seems to be why Houston was so outraged at Stubbs’ contention that “only one team deserved to be in the final”.
Stubbs hadn’t been referring to Falkirk, of course. Houston found this disrespectful. He wasn’t questioning the opinion that Hibs had enjoyed far more of the play, since that was unarguable.
On top of this, they hit the post and bar. But Houston was angered because Stubbs had neglected to see the work Falkirk put into blunting Hibs’ danger. It wasn’t luck, it was bloody good pre-match planning.
According to Houston, this refusal to credit the opposition has happened with weary regularity in the course of a season when Falkirk have enjoyed the upper hand against the Easter Road side. He clearly believes Stubbs needs to learn how to lose more gracefully.
He [Stubbs] should think about where Falkirk are getting their goals from – it’s crosses into the boxPeter Houston
For all their possession and woodwork hitting, Hibs actually had few clear-cut chances on Saturday. Falkirk, meanwhile, knew they would have to take their opportunities when they came – or, indeed, opportunity singular, as was the case. Without top scorer Rory Loy and the cup-tied John Baird, they had been left severely weakened in attack.
Theirs was a victory borne out of very straitened circumstances. But it was also secured by exploiting a particular weakness in the Hibs team. It is a weakness Houston basically said Stubbs should really have ironed out by now.
“Deal with it,” advised Houston. He didn’t just mean deal with the pain of having lost a Scottish Cup semi-final in such agonising fashion. He meant, literally, learn to deal with it. Learn to deal with the crosses from which Falkirk have now scored six times against Hibs this season. Three of these goals have been match-winning ones, like Craig Sibbald’s at the weekend.
Houston was openly calling into question Stubbs’ managerial ability. Clearly stung, he was responding to what he interpreted as sour grapes from his younger, less experienced opposite number with some withering put-downs.
He wasn’t having the squeals from the Hibs camp that fortune hadn’t favoured the green and white side on Saturday. “I just wish we had some of the luck the opposition had today,” said Stubbs, whose words were then relayed to Houston. The Falkirk manager retains enough ginger flecks in what he has left of his closely-cropped hair to fit the description fiery.
Houston went on the attack. “Every game we have played against them this season Alan’s team has deserved to win – according to Alan”. Ouch. “I think what he [Stubbs] should think about is where Falkirk are getting their goals from – it’s crosses into the box, so deal with it!” Ouch.
“That’s what I would do.” Ouch. For a final, cutting flourish, Houston even offered Stubbs the benefit of his advice. “As a coach, I would be saying: ‘I need to stop crosses because every time they get crosses into our box they score goals’.”
Houston pointed out that it was now the sixth time Falkirk had profited from a fairly straightforward cross into the box against Hibs this season. To make matters worse for Hibs, and Stubbs, it was the smallest man on the pitch who was allowed to score the header on Saturday, something Houston also wasn’t slow in pointing out.
Another far from lofty player, John Baird, had managed to get in between the Hibs defence in the 3-3 draw earlier this year, meaning there are clearly issues to be addressed by Stubbs and his coaching team. The Hibs manager might prefer they hadn’t been pointed out in the full glare of a post-match press conference but then, as Houston would probably note, he started it.
Still, it means we could be in for an interesting countdown to 2 May, when these teams meet again in the last game of the league season. Much could again be at stake. At least Stubbs has a bit of time to sort out those crosses into the box.