Last season Hibs rarely looked like scoring, just 31 goals in 38 matches a prime reason for their spectacular fall from grace.
This time round they do appear to carry a greater threat but, for the time being at least, it’s the same old story for Alan Stubbs’ side, an inability to produce a reasonable ratio of goals scored to chances created.
By the head coach’s reckoning Hibs made no less than 18 chances against Falkirk, enough as Stubbs declared to win three games never mind one. Alas, they failed to convert even one of those openings, leaving a cheeky backheeler from Bairns hitman Rory Loy to condemn them to a second successive Championship defeat, now trailing leaders and Capital rivals Hearts by six points albeit only three matches have been played.
“Disbelief” was the word Stubbs used to sum up his feelings, before adding: “We need to be more ruthless in front of goal. They put themselves in good positions but unfortunately we were not clinical enough.”
It wasn’t the first time Stubbs had bemoaned the lack of a cutting edge, Hibs averaging a goal a game from their opening four fixtures although, admittedly, their previous outings had produced far fewer chances than this encounter.
However, Stubbs insisted he wasn’t over-worried, saying: “It would be more of a concern if we were not creating chances. The fact you create 18 is enough to win three games never mind one. Obviously with them scoring it gives them a lift, something to hang onto but even after that I thought our response was good; if one of them just goes in I am in no doubt we go on to win the game.
“But unfortunately it has not, the frustration then grows and that’s disappointing.”
Former Falkirk striker Farid El Alagui, scorer of 27 goals in just 43 games in one season with the Bairns, and the normally reliable and experienced Paul Heffernan were the main culprits, both passing up the sort of opportunities Hibs fans would have expected them to snap up with glee.
With winger Matty Kennedy and Callum Booth striking up an immediate partnership on Hibs’ left flank, the pair rampaging forward at every opportunity, there was no lack of incident around the Falkirk penalty area, Alex Harris having already seen one netbound effort blocked by the sea of white shirts in front of him, a spectacle which was to become common place throughout the game, before Loy scored.
Heffernan should have equalised almost immediately, inexplicably heading Kennedy’s pinpoint cross wide with the goal gaping; El Alagui rippled the side-netting from a Booth pass; Heffernan couldn’t find a way past Jamie MacDonald when left with only the goalkeeper to beat; Harris blasted one over; El Alagui sent a glancing header wide; MacDonald threw himself full-length to push away a blistering drive from Scott Allan and El Alagui saw yet another header come off the cross bar.
“I think we could be playing out there still,” sighed Stubbs some 30 minutes after the final whistle, “and we’d still not have scored. But I’d be more worried if we were not playing well and being beaten.
“I actually think we are not a million miles away but at this moment in time it probably doesn’t feel that way.”
Stubbs’ conviction that goals will inevitably come should Hibs continue to create so many openings is undoubtedly valid but, at the same time, he’ll be well aware that such profligacy can’t continue indefinitely in a league which will be fiercely fought and in which every point and possibly even every goal will count.
A glaring miss from Blair Alston, the midfielder blasting high over with the goal at his mercy after Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley could only push Loy’s powerful drive in his direction, just before half-time kept the Easter Road outfit in the match. But while chances were less readily available in the second half, it was the same story, El Alagui failing to get enough loft on his attempted chip when left with only MacDonald to beat; Scott Allan turning and dragging a shot wide after being left with both time and space by Booth’s pass and, finally, substitute Jason Cummings firing one last effort over.
If Hibs’ shortcomings in front of goal have been highlighted, it would be wrong to ignore the efforts of Falkirk, the Bairns superbly well-organised defensively with central defenders David McCracken and Will Vaulks blunting the home attack while Peter Houston’s side carried a real threat hitting on the break.
“I’m really chuffed with them,” beamed Houston, “I thought we defended absolutely magnificently while we were a bit dangerous on the counter-attack. I thought Rory Loy’s performance as a lone striker was excellent.
“It’s a big three points for us. Having drawn with Cowdenbeath in our first game then going into three big matches against Rangers, Hibs and Hearts people would have been asking questions had we not taken anything from the game so it’s a huge result for Falkirk.”
For his part, Stubbs believes it is only a matter of time before things turn Hibs way. Urging everyone to “stick with it,” he added: “I know the fans are frustrated. If I was a fan I’d be frustrated but we have to stick behind the team.
“I honestly believe, and I won’t shirk the issue, that we are on the right lines but unfortunately at this moment it’s not just falling for us.”
As always when chances are not being turned into goals, a team is vulnerable and, as Stubbs pointed out, it was one lapse which was enough to sink his side. “We have lost concentration, we lost a man around the back, the ball comes off the keeper and we don’t react quickly enough. It’s an opportunist backheel and unluckily for us it’s managed to go under Oxley’s body.
“From that point of view it’s disappointing because it’s one lapse that’s put us on the back foot.”