It was a pretty good shot for sure, hit hard and low and true through a thicket of legs – but in the 89th minute Farid El Alagui’s strike was an equaliser in another toiling performance by Hibernian, nothing more.
Two minutes later, though, after Queen of the South had denied Falkirk victory, the Moroccan’s goal almost took on the aspect of a winner. And two minutes after that, Raith Rovers delayed Rangers’ title celebrations to round off a crazy end to a compelling day in the Championship. The league has already been lost; Rangers will win it soon. For the Leith team now it’s all about Falkirk, about finishing above them to provide some respite from games threatening to crash into each other with so many to be played. That’s why the dramatic events of Saturday could have produced a strange boast from the Hibs fans in Paisley, aimed at rivals who’d just blown it in Dumfries: “Our 2-2 draw is better than your 2-2 draw.”
Better because Falkirk had tossed away a two-goal lead, whereas El Alagui’s goal stopped the Hibs rot, prevented a fifth league defeat in a row. A small achievement for a team who earlier in the season only lost once in 28 games, but at the squeaky-bum stage they will take that.
“That could be a very big point for us,” agreed El Alagui afterwards, “and I think every one of them will be from now until the end. We wanted three but regarding how the game went one is good. We’re trying to finish second and avoid two extra games in the play-offs. It’s a battle with Falkirk and, of course, we play them soon. For us it was important to react from our last game. You cannot be happy when you’re Hibernian and you lose four in a row. We showed some good character. This team has got that.”
Hibs also by the end had four strikers on the pitch, El Alagui and Chris Dagnall joining Jason Cummings, who had scored the opener but, after that, didn’t get a sniff, and Anthony Stokes, who was also having an unhappy afternoon until providing the cutback for the leveller. “That was brave by the manager,” El Alagui said. “I don’t think there are many who would do that, 2-1 down away from home, but sometimes you have to take risks.”
Is Cummings-Stokes really the best partnership? This is the subject of feverish debate among Hibs fans. Diplomatically, El Alagui talked up the guys who always get the nod but said he was ready when required. “Stokesy and Jase are really good but we have other strikers: Chris, James Keatings and myself. Every player will have a contribution to make because the schedule is so heavy. You have to stay fit and, when you get the chance, perform as good as you can. Whoever is on the pitch has to show desire. At the start of the season we set the standard really high and it’s dropped recently. This was better but there’s still loads we can do.”
St Mirren got a bit of fortune with their equaliser, not appearing to have a goal in them until an offside-looking Rocco Quinn popped up. After that, though, they were buzzy and bold, so Andy Webster was frustrated they couldn’t hold on for the victory.
“From a goal down to winning and to be so close to the three points, the lads are obviously disappointed,” the defender said. “We knew this was going to be tough. Hibs are a very good side but we showed doggedness and determination to compete with them. A win would have pushed us up to fifth. From where we were, though, it’s good to be looking upwards.”