Having been up half the night travelling back from Wembley Stadium in order to get himself ready and raring to go for his side’s meeting with Falkirk at Easter Road, John McGinn could have done with a quiet, incident-free 90 minutes at the heart of the Hibernian midfield.
Unfortunately for the Scotland international, Saturday’s game was quite the opposite. So rarely has one player been involved so heavily in a game’s highlights, as Hibs fought back from a late deficit to earn a point against the resolute ten men of Falkirk.
It began in the 23rd minute when McGinn and former Hibs man Tom Taiwo each went into a 50-50 ball around 30 yards from the Falkirk goal. McGinn came off the worst of the two and John Beaton showed his opponent a straight red card.
Afforded more space in the midfield, McGinn started to assert himself. In the end, he would draw three top saves from Falkirk stopper Danny Rogers, provide the assist for Hibernian’s equaliser – headed home by Paul Hanlon – and even played a part in Falkirk’s opener, scored by John Baird, after the Falkirk striker back-heeled the ball off him to win the visitors their first corner of the game with 12 minutes left.
“I know,” McGinn said ruefully when reminded of Rogers’ heroics, including a fingertip stop mere seconds after the playmaker’s deep cross for Hanlon had tied the game up. “He’s a really good goalkeeper, it’s just unfortunate he’s not still with the Ireland squad.”
Falkirk could say similar about him. A few eyebrows were raised when the idea was first floated that McGinn would be in action so soon after Scotland’s World Cup qualifier with England, but he more than justified the decision to grant him a start despite the mad dash.
“It was hectic but anything to help the cause,” said McGinn. “It would have been a waste if I’d sat in the stand. I wouldn’t say I was 100 per cent, but I was fit enough to play a part and squeeze in the 90 minutes.
“I got back into the flat about 3am. It wasn’t ideal but I got a decent enough sleep and I felt all right.
“Obviously I was really disappointed not to be involved against England, but I respect the manager’s decision.
“These are always feisty games between two good teams. Falkirk never make it easy for you. They are always up for the battle and so are we. Every time there’s a challenge both teams are contesting and fighting for each other.”
Things did get a little testy at times with Grant Holt, Darren McGregor and Aaron Muirhead all booked for indulging in a bit of handbags. A great rivalry built up between the sides last season and it has certainly continued into this campaign. However, Falkirk’s goalscorer on the day, John Baird, insists his side’s fighting performance was less about bettering Hibs, and more about getting their promotion charge back on track, with Peter Houston’s side sitting in fifth place, nine points behind Saturday’s hosts.
“I don’t know what it’s like in the Hibs team,” said Baird, “but, from our point of view, we’ve let ourselves down so far this season and we need to get back to the team that we were. We had a lot of fire in the belly and it showed.”
On the red card shown to Taiwo: “The two players have gone in the exact same. Tom’s just protected himself the way McGinn has. It’s a difficult one to call.
“Different angles can make it look worse than what it was. We’ve watched it back and we’re all of the opinion that it wasn’t a sending-off, but it’s a hard one for the officials.”