It may be akin to demanding a parent to choose their favourite child, but footballers and managers are often asked to list achievements in order. For Peter Houston, it is simple – if Falkirk go on to win promotion, it will rank right up alongside his Scottish Cup triumph with Dundee United in 2010.
Having avoided a play-off quarter-final against Raith Rovers, thanks to his team finishing second in the Championship, the Bairns manager has had plenty of time to reflect on the achievement that could lie just days away.
They will take the next step on that hoped-for road to the top-flight tonight against Hibernian at Easter Road and, come full-time, there could be a clearer picture as to both teams’ chances of landing the prize they both covet.
Houston is thrilled his players were able to exceed expectations in clinching runners-up, but he insists further victories over Hibs and Kilmarnock would rate as highly as his Hampden success against Ross County with United six years ago.
“I would never diminish what 2010 did for me,” he said. “That is done over five games and we won the Scottish Cup. This will have been done over 40 games and it would be a huge achievement, but it would rank hand in hand with the 2010 Scottish Cup win with Dundee United. I could never choose between the two.
“It would be a massive achievement for Falkirk because of the resources we have got, especially in a season where Rangers and Hibs were in this league. I know what resources Hibs have and it is double ours, and it would be kudos to us if we did go up - but only if we go up.”
As if what is at stake is not enough, the recent history of encounters between Falkirk and Hibs will ensure there is an added dimension to the two-legged tie. The acrimony dates back at least to last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final when, in the immediate aftermath of Falkirk’s ‘smash-and-grab’ 1-0 victory, head coach Alan Stubbs was insistent Hibs had been the better team and should have progressed to the final. Houston’s response was his side had benefited from a weakness in the opposition ranks in dealing with cross balls and Stubbs had to ‘deal with it’.
That bitter narrative has intensified with a controversial penalty that earned Hibs their only victory over Falkirk in four matches, some managerial ‘sledging’ and Falkirk’s fury at Fraser Fyvie questioning prior to last month’s 2-2 draw whether they would show they had ‘big-game players’.
Now 57, Houston is too long in the tooth to allow the rancour to define this latest coming together, but is also not about to issue an innocent plea. “I don’t think there has been needle between the teams – it’s been between me and Alan,” he added with a smile. “I think it’s just noising each other up and Alan will do the best he can. I remember hearing about his press conference two weeks ago when he said Falkirk had to beat Morton – that was him getting it out there. I can take that. There is nothing malicious in it.
“I don’t know Alan particularly well but we have had a cup of tea together and we have had pleasant banter. What you try to do as a manager is take the pressure off your team. It’s about winding other people up. Alan has been cute at it all season and I can do it as well. But I don’t think there is a lot of animosity between the players.
“It will come down to two teams who have had a good season in the league and want to have an opportunity of going into a league where I think Falkirk deserve to be.”
And what does he think it will take in tonight’s first-leg to ensure it is Falkirk who progress to face Kilmarnock in the final? “Of course, we want to still be in the tie and we don’t want to lose 3-0 or something because that’s when things become difficult. I would take a draw and I would certainly take a win, but we are going to have to work very, very hard to be in the tie come Friday.”
“It would be nice if it came down to a one-off game even if we were level.”