Hibs given a real test in the rain by Bairns

Hibs produced a second-half blitz but couldn't come up with a winner as the Easter Road outfit completed their preparations for the new season with a 1-1 draw against First Division Falkirk.

Having fallen behind to an early goal and perhaps lucky not to concede at least one more in a lacklustre first half, Hibs finally got into their stride after the interval only to find Bairns goalkeeper Michael McGovern putting up the shutters.

Time and again the Falkirk No.?1 left the men in green and white shaking their heads in disbelief, blocking netbound shots from Matt Thornhill, Garry O'Connor and David Wotherspoon. And even after he'd eventually been beaten by substitute Paul Hanlon's late equaliser, McGovern kept Steven Pressley's side level, spreading himself to deny Edwin de Graaf a last-gasp winner.

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Although Hibs fans didn't get the comforting win they craved ahead of Sunday's SPL opener against Celtic and departed possibly a little concerned at seeing their side unable to muster a shot of note throughout the opening 45 minutes, boss Colin Calderwood declared himself well satisfied.

He said: "I was pleased throughout because we had a proper test again.

I felt it was an excellent preparation game for us, if we gave the ball away we looked as if we might get punished, if we played it well we looked as if we might profit so it was perfect."

That said, the careless defending which proved such an Achilles' heel to Hibs last season - 61 goals conceded over the course of their 38 SPL matches - remains a problem for the Easter Road outfit as witnessed by the fourth minute catalogue of errors which gifted Falkirk the opening goal.

Farid Allagui's low cross was inviting but posed little danger as the ball passed behind the visitors' back four and goalkeeper Mark Brown who half-thought about coming for it but decided otherwise, his hesitation flummoxing Scott Taggart.

The youngster had plenty of time to clear with no Bairns' player within yards but missing a shout to that effect, Taggart wildly slashed the ball behind for a corner, leaving Rhys Bennett to rise above everyone to meet Mark Millar's cross to nod home.A goal lost from a set-play, all too depressingly familiar.

Calderwood had opted for what should have been an attacking 4-3-3 formation but Hibs found themselves struggling in the middle of the park while the movement and aerial strength of Allagui caused all sorts of problems for the Edinburgh club's central defensive pairing of David Stephens and Ian Murray.

Time and again the French striker found himself with acres of room to run between his two opponents, denied a goal himself as he stole in behind them to meet Callum Higginbotham's inch-perfect cross only to find the offside flag raised against him. A marginal decision to say the least.

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The torrential rain which has become the trademark of Hibs' pre-season programme ensured the surface was slick but left Brown twice opting to punch away two powerful efforts from Millar rather than risk trying to hold onto the greasy ball as Steven Pressley's side sought to press home their advantage.

By the time Blair Alston burrowed his way through the middle of that shaky defence to test Brown yet again all Hibs had to their name was a timely block from Bennett on O'Connor and an adventurous set-piece from Callum Booth, the teenager left back knocking Thornhill's touch into the air before dispatching a volley which dropped well wide of target.

Only five days before the start of the season and the daunting prospect of a visit from title favourites Celtic and the Hibs fans who'd made the short journey from the Capital to make up just over half the 1611 crowd were desperately looking for signs of Calderwood's plans falling into place.

On the evidence of the opening 45 minutes there was little to comfort them although their mood would have brightened considerably after the break.

Certainly Calderwood's side looked more like that which will face Celtic after the interval, Sean O'Hanlon and Paul Hanlon taking over in central defence with Murray pushed into the middle of the park to add more steel, sitting in front of the back line with Victor Palsson to give the three in front of them, Ivan Sproule, Thornhill and David Crawford the licence to support O'Connor.

There was a bit more purpose, too, from Hibs, O'Connor's precise header held by McGovern, a routine save fair enough, but more than he'd been asked to do for much of the first half.

Thornhill was left holding his head in anguish as a shot he obviously felt had a chance of finding the net was blocked, but Falkirk continued to carry a threat, substitute Ally Graham forcing Brown into an acrobatic stop but then spurning a golden opportunity to score by sending a free header from Millar's cross wide.

O'Hanlon went close to equalising on the hour mark, meeting Booth's corner with his head only to see Millar boot the ball off the line.

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Little had been seen of Sproule and his lightning pace but the Northern Ireland winger was onto Palsson's crossfield pass in a flash, racing clear to cut the ball back for Thornhill. But McGovern was perfectly placed to beat away his low shot.

Hibs were showing more composure and sureness of touch as they sought to carve out that opening which would bring a goal and it almost came once again when Booth and Edwin de Graaf combined to allow David Wotherspoon a sight of goal. But once more McGovern was equal to the task as he was a few seconds later in denying O'Connor.

Calderwood had rung the changes, using all but one of his nine substitutes and three of them were involved in Hibs' equaliser, De Graaf dummying Scott Smith's low corner at the near post for Paul Hanlon to slam the ball home from eight yards.

But it was that man McGovern again who denied Hibs a winner, spreading himself to block De Graaf's low shot after the Dutchman had raced onto Martin Scott's perfectly-timed through ball.

Falkirk: McGovern, Duffie, Dods (Wallace 66), Bennett (Flynn 56), Kingsley, Sibbald (Fulton 70), Alston, Millar, Murdoch, Higginbotham, Allagui (Graham 46). Subs not used: Bowman.

Hibs: Brown, Taggart (Wotherspoon 66), Stephens (O'Hanlon 46), Murray (Horner 77), Booth (Smith 77), Palsson, Thornhill (De Graaf 66), Stevenson (Hanlon 46), Sproule (Galbraith 66), O'Connor (Scott 77), Crawford. Subs not used: Stack.

Referee: Bobby Madden.

Attendance: 1611