Hibernian 2 - 0 Falkirk: Riordan papers over the cracks in Hibs' defence

HIBS had better hope that Derek Riordan doesn't do himself an injury any time soon.

• One-man show: Derek Riordan celebrates. Picture: SNS

With rather more artistry than his manager showed as a painter and decorator, the free-scoring midfielder yesterday papered over the cracks of another limited performance by his team. Having single-handedly earned them a draw in Paisley seven days earlier, here he was bagging another two goals, even if the first of them was courtesy of a helpful deflection.

His two strikes – one just after Falkirk had a 'goal' disallowed, the other three minutes from the end – earned the Edinburgh club maximum points from a match they made quite a mealof.

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They are unbeaten in nine SPL outings, and have the same points tally as Rangers, but even John Hughes was not about to pretend that it had been an impressive display.

"We are better than we showed out there," admitted the manager. "But it's always nice to know that you have guys in your locker who can score goals. No matter how it is going, they will come up with the goods."

None of which is much consolation to Falkirk, who were frustrated to emerge with nothing after a spirited second half display. Not only were they marshalled well by Darren Barr at the back, their advances also seemed to frighten the life out of Sol Bamba, who gave the ball away for fun, and Yves Ma-Kalambay, who replaced the injured Graham Stack at half-time. By the end of a typically jittery 45 minutes by the Belgian goalkeeper, the home support were exhaling ironic sighs of relief whenever he gathered the ball safely.

On several occasions, Hughes' team were fortunate not to be punished for sloppiness at the back. If, as he has suggested, a statue of him is erected at the Falkirk Stadium, it is unlikely to be as stationary as his Hibs defence were when Chris Mitchell flung in a corner from the right. Advancing towards the ball from the penalty spot, Carl Finnigan rose almost unchallenged to head the ball goalwards, where David Wotherspoon was alert enough to clear off the line. When the rebound was returned to the danger area, Ryan Flynn thought he had scored, but the referee ruled that the loose ball had spun over the bye-line beforehand.

Hibs were guilty of the same hesitation just before half-time, when Mitchell delivered a free kick, this time from the left flank. The cross ought not to have been troublesome, but Barr barely needed to jump as he directed a header just wide of the post. Add to all that a shot straight at the goalkeeper by Finnigan, and Falkirk could count themselves unfortunate not to have scored in the first half.

Instead, it was that man Riordan who separated the sides. Merouane Zemmama's cross picked him out at the back post, and with immaculate timing, his low volley found the far corner courtesy of Brian McLean's shin.

"People say it was an own goal, but his technique deserved the credit," said the Falkirk manager Eddie May.

Riordan might have set up another two minutes later. This time, with the ball bouncing awkwardly in the penalty area, he used his laces to nudge a perfectly-weighted cross on to the head of Colin Nish. The big striker's header lacked conviction, and the goalkeeper was allowed two attempts at pawing it away. Despite Nish's claims that the ball had crossed the line, play was waved on.

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Hibs' next chance, just after the interval, was another product of Riordan's work down the left. His low, left-foot cross was cleared only as far as Liam Miller, who could have done with some of his team-mate's luck. The midfielder's shot was deflected, again off McLean, only this time the ball was diverted wide.

Hibs, though, were anticipating a response from Falkirk, and it duly arrived. Ma-Kalambay's first positive contribution was to deny what could have been a goal of the season. Pedro Moutinho dispossessed Bamba just outside the Hibs box, and from a wide angle, attempted an audacious chip into the far corner. Backtracking frantically, the goalkeeper got just enough glove on the dropping ball to direct it on to the bar and away for a corner.

It wasn't the only time Bamba was relieved of possession, but there were other offenders. When Ma-Kalambay was invited to clear his lines, and instead showboated round substitute Lee Bullen on his own six-yard line, you wondered if it was catching. Had that one gone in – and there was every chance that it might have – the hapless goalie would never have been forgiven.

Then, when Bullen ranon to a through ball by substitute Alex MacDonald, the goalkeeper inexplicably remained inside his penalty area.

The price of Bullen's failure to take advantage of that mistake became clear three minutes from the end, when Riordan settled the issue. Wotherspoon surged down the right, swung a low ball across the box, and the Scotland international lashed it into the net with his left foot. "The difference between the teams was Derek's fantastic finishing," said May, whose team still prop up the SPL.

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