IT IS not often that the irrepressible Jason Cummings is upstaged, either on the pitch or on the back pages. You would expect that to be particularly true when he has just produced the first hat-trick of his professional career.
However, Falkirk managed to do just that, recovering manfully from a two-goal deficit to rescue a point which seemed inconceivable at half time.
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It looked like a Hibs victory had been assured over tea and biscuits in a cosy Hampden conference room. A three-man SFA fast-track panel found the case against the player “not proven” on Thursday after he was accused of aiming an offensive gesture at Hearts fans during last weekend’s derby.
And how the young striker took advantage of his eligibility, showing a wonderful instinctive streak by netting a first-half treble. Should SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan be interested, Cummings’ celebrations were muted.
However, Falkirk illustrated laudable character and no shortage of quality to ensure they claimed a share of the spoils thanks to efforts from debutant John Baird, a Liam Craig own goal, and Peter Grant.
“It was very frustrating. At 3-1 we were in total command of the game, but we have to defend set pieces much better than we did,” said Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs. “If we were cut open then you can accept that more than a couple of hopeful balls into the box that we didn’t deal with. That is the most disappointing thing. We haven’t been beaten, but it feels like a defeat.”
With much of the game played in a bitter, swirling wind and a blizzard of snow, it looked like being a miserable afternoon for spectators. So, both sides must be credited for producing an exhilarating, high-quality 90 minutes of football.
Cummings was first to strike, finding himself a sliver of space inside the box to curl an effort past Jamie MacDonald, who got a futile hand on the shot.
Falkirk’s equaliser was spectacularly against the run of play – and startlingly simple. Keiran Duffie produced a fine cross from deep and the Hibs back-line unforgivably allowed one of the smallest strikers in Scottish football, Baird, a free header, which he directed superbly into the far corner.
Baird thought he had doubled his money midway through the half as he diverted a Rory Loy flick-on into the net with his chest from six yards, with the goal initially awarded, much to the ire of the Hibs players appealing for offside.
But after what seemed like an eternity – Hibs were actually back in the centre circle and on the verge of restarting play – the officials consulted again and the goal was chalked off.
“The referee got it right, I believe,” a circumspect Falkirk manager Peter Houston explained in the aftermath. “At the time I was frustrated, I wanted the goal. But Bairdy has touched it, so – as long as he was offside – they have got it right between them.”
That decision looked to be a defining moment when Hibs regained the lead prior to half time. Scott Allan delivered a superb corner kick to find the unmarked Liam Fontaine and his header was inventively flicked into the net from point-blank range by Cummings.
And the irascible young striker completed a 42-minute hat-trick –taking his vital statistics to six goals in four games and 12 for the season – after some marvellous work from Martin Boyle on his first start.
The on-loan Dundee striker latched on to an Allan pass and nipped around Jamie MacDonald, who erred by dashing out of his penalty area. Boyle showed terrific awareness to deliver a cross for Cummings to head in.
Boyle should have made it four as he raced on to an incisive pass and rounded MacDonald, only to roll the ball wide of an unguarded net from 18 yards. “We had a chance to make it 4-1 and that is probably the defining moment of the game,” admitted Stubbs.
Indeed, arrears were halved on the hour mark, with Grant forcing a Craig Sibbald corner towards goal and Hibs skipper Liam Craig skewing the ball over the line. And Grant, taking his tally for the season to three, was first to react to a deep Mark Kerr free-kick, controlling the ball at the far post and shooting past Mark Oxley. “The character shown to come back from 3-1 at Easter Road was fantastic,” added Houston. “But I’m frustrated we didn’t nick a win.”
Hibs: Oxley; Booth, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson; Robertson, McGeouch, Craig, Allan (Handling 77); Cummings, Boyle (Dja Djedje 70). Subs: Perntreou, Stanton, Heffernan, Sinclair, Martin.
Falkirk: MacDonald; Leahy, McCracken, Grant, Duffie; Kerr (Taiwo 86), Vaulks; Sibbald, Loy, Alston; Baird (Morgan 82). Subs: Bowman, Smith, Dick, Maybury, Cooper.
Referee: W Collum. Attendance: 9,498
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