Hibernian found a new way to torture their supporters last night as they allowed 10-man Falkirk to snatch a sensational draw in a ding-dong battle with two goals in the space of the final four minutes.
Two goals to the good through Jason Cummings’ early strike and his late and controversial penalty and with the Bairns down to 10 men thanks to Aaron Muirhead’s red card, David McCracken gave the visitors hope and belief with a simple header four minutes from time, and substitute Bob McHugh bundled in the equaliser in the final minute to give Peter Houston’s side the upper hand in the race for second spot.
Enjoying a six-point advantage as the campaign draws to a close means, despite Hibs’ two games in hand, it is advantage Falkirk as this pair seek the runners-up place and the easier play-off route.
As befits a team floundering amidst a sequence of just one win in their last seven league outings, there was a nervousness in the home ranks. Each misplaced pass or failure to deal with a Falkirk foray forward was met with groans.
The Bairns buzzed with intent early on but it was visiting keeper Danny Rogers who was called into action in the fifth minute as he palmed away an in-swinging John McGinn free-kick that was in danger of creeping in at his far post. There was nothing the on-loan Aberdeen youngster could do five minutes later coughed up a calamitous opener for Hibs.
Mark Oxley’s long free-kick caused confusion in the Falkirk rearguard and, when McCracken headed back to Rogers, he looked up to find the keeper rushing from his line. Cummings was left to boot the loose ball into unguarded net just before it crossed the line anyway. The goal relieved the tension in Alan Stubbs’ side and they went looking for a second. Twice they appealed to referee Crawford Allan as corners were bent into the Falkirk goalmouth. However, first, Darren McGregor was penalised and, then, the officials were not interested in claims that Paul Hanlon had been impeded.
The home fans would have been justified in asking where this kind of first-half performance had been in recent matches. Unable to beat an already-relegated Alloa at the weekend, Hibs dominated and may have been disappointed with their slim half-time lead.
Anthony Stokes might have done better than miscue a header wide of the target from inside the six-yard box as Lewis Stevenson fizzed a cross in from the left. Four minutes later, it took a crude challenge from Muirhead 30 yards out to halt the on-loan Celtic striker’s burst forward on the counter and referee Allan was again kept on his toes moments before the break as a full-blooded challenge from McGinn on the touchline sparked a brief melee. It was an indication of the importance of the encounter, particularly to the home side.
By replacing midfielder Tom Taiwo with striker Lee Miller at half-time, manager Peter Houston gave his side licence to pile forward and they began the second period with real intent. Only a desperate block from McGregor prevented John Baird’s volley from hitting the Hibs net within two minutes of the restart and Miller was only inches short of applying the finishing touch to Will Vaulks’ low cross. Where Hibs had dominated the first-half proceedings, it was the Bairns on top now. The Easter Road outfit, however, almost grabbed a second goal in the 56th minute but Rogers tipped away Cummings’ drive.
The Bairns thought they had equalised in the 66th minute when Luke Leahy’s cross from the left drifted over the head of Miller to substitute McHugh, who volleyed on target only to see Oxley save with his feet.
With 17 minutes left, Muirhead’s barge on McGinn earned him a second yellow card and, moments later, Hibs went two goals ahead in controversial fashion.
McGinn’s corner from the right was aimed at Hanlon and, when he struggled to shake off the attentions of McCracken, referee Allan pointed to the spot. Cummings blasted in confidently.
However, the Bairns roared backto snatch a point. The Hibs defence was napping McCracken to nod in Leahy’s free-kick with just four minutes remaining and then Vauks’ long throw-in was flicked on and rattled into the net by McHugh.
Referee: C Allan
Hibs: Oxley; Gray (Gunnarsson 47), McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson; Boyle, Bartley, Fyvie, McGinn (Henderson 83); Stokes, Cummings. Subs not used: Virtanen, Henderson, Handling, Keatings, Dagnall, Thomson.
Falkirk: Rogers; Muirhead, Vaulks, McCracken, Leahy; Alston, Taiwo (Miller 46), Kerr, Hippolyte (O’Hara; Sibbald, Baird (McHugh 65). Subs not used: Mehmet, Maybury, Smith, Shepherd.