HIBERNIAN will place their Premiership status on the line against a Hamilton Accies side high in confidence and carrying considerable momentum into the play-off final this week.
Scorers: Hamilton Academical - Andreu (15)
Hamilton win 2-1 on aggregate
French midfielder Tony Andreu scored the only goal of a pulsating semi-final, second leg, capitalising on a mistake by veteran Falkirk defender David McCracken, to earn the Lanarkshire side their two-legged showdown with the freefalling Easter Road men.
Hibs manager Terry Butcher took another first-hand look at Accies yesterday and will appreciate his team face a real test against opponents who have lost just one of their last 15 games.
For Falkirk, a long and demanding campaign came to a disappointing end but they can be proud of their contribution at New Douglas Park where they came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Kevin Cuthbert.
Before McCracken’s unforced error gifted Hamilton the opening goal, Gary Holt would have been the more content manager with the manner in which his team started the game.
Falkirk looked slightly the more assured and purposeful during the initial exchanges, without threatening to find a way in behind the Accies back four. They did test Cuthbert from distance on a couple of occasions, the home ’keeper up to the task each time as he held the efforts of Mark Millar and Stephen Kingsley. But that early promise for the visitors evaporated when Accies took their 15th minute lead. McCracken appeared under no real pressure as he looked to deal with a hopeful long ball into the Falkirk penalty area but he slipped and surrendered possession to Jason Scotland.
The bulky Trinidad & Tobago international forward seized on the error, cutting the ball back into the path of Andreu who had a simple task to slot a low shot beyond the helpless Michael McGovern from around six yards.
The goal injected real momentum into Hamilton’s work as they sought to press home their advantage. Grant Gillespie’s corner from the right presented first-leg scorer Darian MacKinnon with a decent chance but his looping header was too close to McGovern.
Accies then had a loud appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Kevin Clancy who was not convinced that Louis Longridge’s driven cross had been deliberately handled by Craig Sibbald.
After weathering that period of pressure, Falkirk came close to an equaliser in the 29th minute. Millar’s well delivered free kick into the heart of the penalty area picked out Mark Beck and the big striker made good contact with a diving header which Cuthbert did well to save, diving low to his left to keep it out. But Accies unquestionably had the edge in the first half and it required alert defensive blocks by Kingsley and Jonathan Flynn to prevent Longridge and Scotland from adding to the home team’s lead before the interval.
With just 45 minutes left to keep their promotion hopes alive, Falkirk were re-energised at the start of the second half as they managed to put Cuthbert and his back four under sustained pressure for the first time,
The Accies ’keeper blundered with a weak attempted clearance to give Rory Loy a sight of goal but was bailed out by Ziggy Gordon, the full-back clearing the Falkirk striker’s lob off the line.
Cuthbert then redeemed himself with a couple of excellent saves in quick succession as Holt’s men raised the tempo. Kingsley’s superb crossfield pass from the left picked out Will Vaulks on the right of the penalty area and the right-back’s thunderous volley was brilliantly turned behind by Cuthbert.
Conor McGrandles was next to be denied an equaliser when the midfielder elegantly worked a shooting opportunity but his left foot shot from 20 yards was saved low to his left by Cuthbert.
Accies introduced Andy Ryan and Mikael Antoine-Curier from the bench in a bid for fresh impetus. It almost paid an immediate dividend when Antoine-Curier drilled a low shot which McGovern gathered well.
There was a real ebb and flow to the contest now and McCracken almost levelled matters with a header from Millar’s cross which was deflected just wide off Jesus Garcia Tena. Then Ryan missed a glorious chance to wrap up victory for Accies as he carelessly side-footed a close-range shot wide after being set up by Longridge.
The closing stages were frantic as Falkirk committed more players to attack, leaving them vulnerable to the counter. McGovern made a fine save to keep out a Ryan volley, then in stoppage time Luke Leahy cleared a James Keatings shot off the line. The second goal was not required, however, as Hamilton edged through and now eagerly await the visit of Hibs on Wednesday night.
Hamilton: Cuthbert, Gillespie, Canning, Tena, Gordon; Routledge; Andreu, Crawford (Ryan 68); MacKinnon, Longridge (Keatings 90), Scotland (Antoine-Curier 69). Subs not used: Hendrie, Devlin, Kilday, Currie.
Falkirk: McGovern, Vaulks, Flynn, McCracken (Leahy 82), Kingsley; McGrandles, Millar, Alston (Shepherd 66), Sibbald; Beck, Loy. Subs not used: Durojaiye, Dick, Rowan, Bia Bi, Bowman.