HIBERNIAN fell just short in their bid to finish in second place, the issue coming down to a question of two measly goals.
But even so, they have only themselves to blame for the potential hazards presented by an extra play-off tie.
When viewed without taking into account their success in reaching two finals, this must be recorded as failure.
Left with too much to do yesterday, they managed to score only half the required total of four goals against a side reduced to ten men after Mark Millar was sent off in 54 minutes.
Again Hibs manager Alan Stubbs again made the brave decision of naming Jason Cummings, his top scorer, among the substitutes on an afternoon that potentially hinged on the number of goals notched by the Easter Road side.
But Stubbs knew the first task was to secure three points in case of any slip-up by Falkirk. It was one of those days when radios – or score flashes via mobile phone – were being relied upon.
But there was little sense of last-day drama until Queen of the South were reduced to ten men. A hitherto uninspired Hibs side sensed their chance against tiring opponents and, when Cummings entered the fray after 62 minutes, things really began to happen.
Niklas Gunnarsson opened the scoring four minutes later while Cummings himself notched his 25th goal of the campaign after 78 minutes. It meant Hibs needed two more goals in 11 minutes providing the score stayed as it was at the Falkirk Stadium – Falkirk 1 Morton 0.
Stranger things have happened than two goals being scored in the final minutes against leggy opponents, especially with Hibs throwing players forward.
But, save for a Cummings shot that dipped just over the bar, there was nothing really to suggest that Hibs would provide their fans with a remarkable finale, despite playing with four, even five at times, up front.
The home players took part in a rather downbeat lap of honour at the end. The fans will be seeing them again sooner than they hoped, at Stark’s Park this Wednesday against Raith Rovers. The second leg takes place back at Easter Road on Saturday.
The news that Paul Watson had put Falkirk ahead against Morton had a naturally deflating effect on an atmosphere that was far from rocking in any case. It meant Hibs knew they needed to win 4-0 at least. But at that point merely winning seemed a tall enough order.
Hibs were again making hard work of finishing off chances. James Keatings had an early chance to score, as did Liam Henderson.
Dale Hilson, meanwhile, blazed over for the visitors. It was a good chance for Queen of the South to really puncture the atmosphere at Easter Road. But, other than that, Conrad Logan was largely untroubled on the way to securing a third clean sheet in three outings for Hibs. Will anyone ever score against him?
But Hibs were toiling to make the breakthrough at the other end before being handed the break required when Millar, pictured, was red carded, rather harshly.
While his hauling down of John McGinn was agricultural in the extreme, most expected the flashing of a yellow card. But referee George Salmond clearly viewed the offence as violent play and sent the player off.
Queen of the South reacted by replacing Lyle, a forward, with Andy Murdoch, a midfielder. He made an instant impression by hauling down McGinn in the same area of park where Millar had seen red for his hacking down of the same player.
But Murdoch’s preventative measures – he tangled with then tugged back McGinn – were more palatable to the referee and he was punished with only a booking.
The game was finally livening up. Hibs kept pressing but were guilty of profligacy, especially when Henderson knocked the ball past the post from the edge of the six-yard box after Martin Boyle’s cross.
It simply increased the frustration in the home stands to know Cummings was still sitting watching this from the bench. Just after the hour mark, Stubbs turned to the striker, who replaced Fraser Fyvie, meaning Hibs had 30 minutes or so to overturn a goal difference margin that now stood at four.
So the one they scored after 66 minutes came not a moment too soon. The hard-working Henderson’s cross was tapped in by Gunnarsson at the far post. It was the Norwegian full back’s second goal in four games.
The Hibs fans hoped this would signal a rush of goals against a tiring Queen of the South.
It wasn’t to be. Just one more followed through Cummings, who headed in from Boyle’s cross. Now it’s next stop, Kirkcaldy.