AFTER another week of banter, mind games and wind-ups with Rangers, and concern over how much sleep each team was getting, Hibernian had to return to the serious business of winning a football match. The trouble was they were playing Falkirk.
Scorers: Hibs – Boyle (90); ′Falkirk – Miller (84)
Their bogey side for much of last season, the Bairns very nearly ended Hibs’ long unbeaten run but substitute Martin Boyle equalised at the death as the Championship produced an extraordinary ding-dong ten-minute burst.
With news filtering through from Ibrox that Rangers had fallen behind, the home fans had urged their team to break the deadlock, even though Hibs were down to ten men, John McGinn having been red-carded in the first half.
But it was Falkirk who scored through Lee Miller, just as Rangers contrived an equaliser. Then, from looking like they might fall further behind in the title race, the Hibees secured what in the final reckoning might prove to be their most valuable point of the whole campaign.
“I don’t think of it as two dropped,” Hibs manager Alan Stubbs said after catching his breath. “I think it’s probably my most enjoyable result of the season, for everything that went on, and when we look back it may be one of those which has made a big contribution. I thought we showed unbelievable character. Our energy levels, the will to not be beaten - we were fantastic.”
Falkirk manager Peter Houston thought his side deserved to win. “We dominated the second half but credit to Hibs who had to play a long time with ten men. Against a team who think they’re going to win the Championship, it just shows you that a wee side like Falkirk aren’t that bad. We’re still hanging in there.”
Inactive for three weeks, maybe it was no surprise that Hibs started slowly. Falkirk were perky with John Baird and Craig Sibbald prominent. James Keatings had a shot which seemed to hit Mark Kerr’s arm but the appeals were pretty half-hearted. Minutes later Keatings thought he was fouled in the box but the fans’ main concern at that moment was to honour, with a minute’s applause, 14-year-old Hibs-daft Brandon Walker who had died of a rare condition affecting his heart and lungs.
After this Hibs found a bit of rhythm. Dominique Malonga broke and fed Keatings whose low strike from 20 yards squirted through Danny Rodgers’ hands for a corner. Keatings was finding space behind the main strikers but Baird was also impressing with his movement. It had become an engrossing contest.
Interestingly it was evolving without much input from the star playmakers, McGinn and Blair Alston. But Falkirk, for whom Willie Vaulks was a combative performer in the midfield, were very much in the contest. Then Player of the Month McGinn, desperate to properly get into the action, had a shot ripple the side-net but that was to be his second-last contribution of the match. In the 42nd minute, cutting inside from the left again, he stretched for the ball which had got away from him and caught Kerr.
“It was one of those,” said Stubbs. “Sometimes they’re given, other times it’s only a yellow card. John is obviously gutted.” Houston admitted that at first he didn’t think the challenge merited red. “Then at half-time Kerr-zo showed me the stud marks right down his shin. It was a wee bit naughtier than I thought.”
The home fans didn’t agree. Thinking Kerr had over-reacted, they made him the panto villain of the afternoon, booing the player constantly. He was much involved as Falkirk dominated possession after the re-start but Houston was frustrated the Bairns didn’t move the ball quickly enough.
If this hadn’t been McGinn’s afternoon then it wasn’t that much better for Jason Cummings. Struggling to get on the ball, and to do anything meaningful when it did arrive, he thought he spied a chance at last but when he fell in the box under a challenge he ended up being booked.
Appearing frustrated with his team’s lame attempts to win the game, Houston tried to illustrate a better way a better way. His hand gesture, though, was exceedingly camp and, in the spirit of the season, Widow Twankey-esque. Perhaps he was suggesting more cross-balls, given Falkirk’s success with the tactic against Hibs in the past.
They went low for the goal with substitute Miller pouncing after Mark Oxley spilled an Alston shot. The keeper was immediately exonerated by his manager. “There will be no one pointing the finger at Ox,” Stubbs said. “He’s got the loneliest job and has been great for us all season.”
Two more subs combined for the leveller, Henri Anier flicking a Cummings cross into the path of Boyle who couldn’t miss from Tam Forsyth range.