The game looked set to end in stalemate after Efe Ambrose had headed Hibs in front with his first goal for the Capital club only for Craig Sibbald to nod home an equaliser for the Bairns.
But then came that fantastic goal from Keatings, a superb curling right-footed shot which left Falkirk keeper Robbie Thomson beaten all ends up.
And with Morton suffering a surprise home defeat by Dunfermline it turned into what could well prove to be the pivotal moment in Hibs’ season.
With skipper David Gray missing with a hamstring injury, Hibs boss Neil Lennon was forced to reshape his back four. Ambrose was moved to right back and Jordon Forster partnered captain for the day Darren McGregor in the centre.
Games between these two clubs have never lacked bite and within a minute Falkirk’s Luke Leahy picked up a word of warning from referee Kevin Clancy for scything down Martin Boyle.
However, other than an early Leahy shot which flew high over, there was little to trouble either goalkeeper in the opening 25 minutes. The only other incident of note was former Hibs midfielder Tom Taiwo earning himself a booking for a foul on Andrew Shinnie.
Jason Cummings, for diving, Luca Gasparotto, for chopping down Shinnie, and Martin Boyle, for his reaction to that tackle, all followed Taiwo into the book in the space of a minute. Then Cummings was only inches away with a curling shot from the corner which resulted from that Gasparotto foul.
A minute before the interval Hibs lost Shinnie to a shoulder injury, his place taken by Keatings.
If Falkirk were to have any hope of overhauling Hibs at the top of the table they needed three points from this encounter and Bob McHugh’s flick presented John Baird with the chance to give the Bairns the lead in the 53rd minute but the striker hurried his shot wide.
Hibs felt they should have had a penalty two minutes later when Gasparotto appeared to nudge Cummings in the back as he went for Keatings cross but referee Kevin Clancy was unimpressed.
McHugh forced Ross Laidlaw in the Hibs goal into a terrific save, with Ambrose blocking Fraser Aird’s effort from the follow up as the game began to liven up. Ambrose was forced to head behind for a Bairns corner as Myles Hippolyte threatened to get on the end of Mark Kerr’s cross.
Clancy certainly wasn’t winning himself any friends among the home support as they roared for a penalty when Lewis Kidd appeared to use a hand, before Boyle was sent sprawling by Peter Grant. The ref awarded a corner before coming over to have a word with Lennon who clearly shared the view of the Hibs fans.
But Hibs finally broke the deadlock with 15 minutes remaining. Keatings delivered a fantastic cross after Grant had held down substitute striker Brian Graham and Ambrose glanced a header beyond Thomson from close range.
Their joy was short-lived however as Falkirk equalised within two minutes, Sibbald getting his head to Aird’s near post corner to beat Ross Laidlaw in the Hibs goal.
But Keatings had the final say as Hibs opened up a double digits lead at the top of the table.