There was nothing the Falkirk players could do but will it to stop. Checking in on the Hibs v Dumbarton match midweek, they saw that James Keatings had netted twice within the opening 15 minutes. The Leith side were on their way to victory and looking like they could take a chunk out of Falkirk’s superior goal difference.
“On Tuesday I was checking my phone and it was 1-0, 2-0, and I’m thinking ‘oh, no!’” admitted Luke Leahy. “Thankfully the goals slowed up a bit. But we always knew Hibs were capable of winning that game by a few goals and it could’ve been plenty more. “
The eventual 4-0 triumph means that after 35 games, the Championships’ second and third placed teams now head into the final round of fixtures, level on 67 points and separated by only three goals. Both will be in the play-offs for a place in next term’s Premiership but results today will determine who has the more gruelling schedule.
“As players, it’s massive to finish second. We get a week to recover from a very long season. I can look at it either way, it can be a bad thing or a good thing. But if you do win those first two games you get a bit of momentum, but I just think the rest is far more important. If we do get second we can watch them two [Raith and Hibs] battle it out and wait for the winner.”
But Leahy says that today he will have no thoughts of what is happening at Easter Road. For most of the campaign, Falkirk have focused on themselves, leaving others to shine the spotlight on Rangers and Hibs. It is an approach that has served Peter Houston’s men well and allowed the underdogs to upset the odds and wriggle in between bigger clubs.
“With Hibs and Rangers in the division it would be a massive achievement for Falkirk to get second,” added the 23-year-old midfielder. “I think the players, staff and fans would have taken simply challenging for second. But it’s massive and the momentum going into the play-offs from second place could be huge for us.
“At the start of season our only target was play-offs, because we missed out on that [last season]. As the season went on and on, and we were close to the top and beating Rangers and things like that, it was exciting. But we were looking at the papers and just seeing stuff about Rangers and Hibs – that was pretty good for us to just fly under the radar.” It meant that while the pressure was cranked up on Alan Stubbs and his players, who suffered an untimely dip in form, they have been basking in their season’s achievements thus far and targeting even more.
“I think a lot of pressure at Hibs is from within. But at Falkirk, as anyone can see, there is no pressure from the management, the fans or anyone else and that has helped us massively. The gaffer has told us to go out and enjoy it and the worst thing that can happen is you lose a game of football. Falkirk players and fans are just loving the way things are going at the moment and taking each game as it comes.”
A win is the target today, a few goals would be a bonus, but Leahy and his team-mates are being careful not to get blinded by the bright lights. They know how tough a task they face and while it plays a part in a bigger picture, for now, it is all about that 90 minutes.
“Morton are a tough side. They will cause us problems but we need to stay calm and enjoy the game and the occasion.
“We have seen the Hibs assistant manager saying ‘we’ll definitely get second’ on the TV and things like that just fire you up to show people we are not giving up and we are pushing for second place. We’ll see how things pan out.”
If the comments from outside have stoked the fire in the belly, that desire has always been there and the number of last-gasp goals in games serve as a perfect indication of the indefatigability.
But Leahy admits that while the players have the legs and the physical fitness to see out a six match play-off sprint, if things don’t go their way this afternoon, it would test their mental stamina.
He has been there before, losing out to Hamilton, who eventually overcame Hibs, two years ago.
“That is just the way the play-offs are set up and you can’t do anything about that,” he said. “The only thing we can do is try to finish second.”