How Hibs lost control of Premier Sports Cup group to Falkirk as signing focus could switch

Lee Johnson knows how quickly fortunes turn in football.

Jake Doyle-Hayes and Kyle McClelland after Hibs were defeated 1-0 by Falkirk in the Premier Sports Cup. Picture: SNS
Jake Doyle-Hayes and Kyle McClelland after Hibs were defeated 1-0 by Falkirk in the Premier Sports Cup. Picture: SNS

His tenure started with victories against English opposition in pre-season, combined with the 5-0 thumping of Clyde as they opened their Premier Sports Cup Group D campaign at the weekend. At that stage, all was rosy, as new signings and a fresh impetus brought goals and bolstered belief.

But, still very early days, there was a dip in the level of on-pitch dynamism as they faced up to a sterner test against a Falkirk side happy to mix it with them and punish any kind of hesitancy or slackness. It was the hosts who prevailed 1-0 thanks to an Aidan Nesbitt header just before the break.

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A club with a laudable record in cup competition in recent times there was no surprise that grumbles emanated from the away stand at half-time as the teams trooped up the tunnel with the League One outfit ahead.

Falkirk's Brad McKay celebrates after the victory over Hibs.
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This is a support, after all, that recently set a very high bar, denouncing a team that had delivered a semi-final and final for them in one season. So, the prospect of losing to a team two tiers below them for the first time in a decade, when they suffered a second round exit to Queen of the South, held little appeal.

Johnson had made six changes to the starting line-up as the new boss attempted to balance winning games with managing squad fitness ahead of the start of top tier business later this month.

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That meant a first competitive start for summer signings Aiden McGeady, Lewis Miller and Kyle McClelland. He also gave Kevin Dabrowski the keeper’s jersey.

But, with Falkirk favouring the pressing game that Johnson has said he wants his team to play, capitalising on turnovers and heading forward with purpose and in numbers, a nervousness spread through the visiting rearguard.

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It left the home side with the better chances in the opening period and, perhaps, highlighted the need for another centre-back as Hibs focus on concluding deals for Bristol City youngster Reuben McAllister and Dinamo Zagreb left-back Marijan Carbaja.

Going forward, there was an absence of the artistry and sparkle many Hibs fans will have expected, but it was their backline that looked really vulnerable in this contest as Falkirk pulled the strings in that first-half. Nesbitt. Calumn Morrison, Craig McGuffie and Steven Heatherington all rocked Hibs’ foundations but were profligate with their finishing.

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Their incisiveness finally paid off in the 39th minute when Leon McCann clipped the ball into the danger area, where Nesbitt rose to flick a fine header inside the far post.

Substitutions will have been pre-planned but even with the likes of Ryan Porteous and Chris Cadden joining the defensive ranks and Ewan Henderson and Elias Melkersen on to bolster the attack, there was no comeback.

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Hibs tried and there were efforts chalked off and denied by defiant defending and, in the case of Melkersen, the post. Christian Doidge had two shots cleared off the line.

However, it was Falkirk’s night and – relieved this was not a knock-out tie – Hibs will regroup and retain the belief that they can still progress from the group stages, albeit they have ceded top spot to the Bairns. They head to Bonnyrigg Rose next on Sunday.