A desolate Alan Stubbs last night faced up to the reality of another season of Championship football, although whether the manager will still be at Hibs when the new campaign begins remains to be seen.
The Easter Road club endured one of their most desperately disappointing nights after Falkirk striker Bob McHugh’s winner in time added on meant their efforts in the league this season have come to naught.
The 53rd game of Hibs’ epic campaign proved a match too far, losing 3-2 to Falkirk and 5-4 on aggregate.
Peter Houston’s victorious side now face Kilmarnock in the Premiership play-off final, with the first leg on Thursday.
Hibs can still turn the season into a memorable one by beating Rangers in next weekend’s Scottish Cup final. But Stubbs admitted it was hard to contemplate such a potentially historic day in the midst of such gloom.
“I am more disappointed for the players and the club as a whole – it is a cruel way to lose any game,” he said. “It’s not what we wanted, far from it. But this last two years have probably been the toughest to get out of the Championship. That’s no consolation to us.” Hibs conceded the first goal to Blair Alston but edged in front before half-time after James Keatings’ double. But a stunning 25-yard equaliser from Luke Leahy levelled the tie yet again and with everyone anticipating extra-time, McHugh did what he normally does by ensuring he had the last word. He struck the equaliser in the first leg at Easter Road earlier this week and also recently scored a late winner against Rangers.
“I didn’t see it coming,” admitted Stubbs. “I thought when we were in front at 2-1 we were looking in control. We seemed to grab hold of the game. It seems as if the game was starting to drift away from Falkirk. Then the lad [Leahy] had a great strike which obviously gave them a lift.
“We dealt with throw-ins and free-kicks into the box for most of the night, but the important one we haven’t.”
Stubbs was confident the players would lift themselves for the Scottish Cup final against Rangers a week today.
He said: “We still have a huge game next week.
“The players will have a couple of days to get it out of their system. And we’ll be back in Monday and we’ll gradually prepare them as the week goes on and see if we can sample a high in football.”
On his own future, he added: “It’s not the time to speak about that. It’s not about me really.
“Right now it’s about the players and the club. Since I have come in we have put things in place that will give it a better chance of progressing forward.”
Falkirk manager Houston saluted his players after they managed to show why they finished second in the Championship, just above Hibs.
“Kilmarnock will be a tough game,” he added. “They are a Premiership side, even though they have not had their best season.
“We’ve watched them these last three weeks and seen their system. We saw them at Hamilton and they showed they are capable of big results.
“They have guys who can score goals, like Boydy [Kris Boyd] who’s a finisher. We’ll need to be at our best to go up.”