IT wasn’t pretty. In fact, at times it was downright ugly. But Hibs boss John Hughes and his players didn’t care that this performance went down as somewhat less than aesthetically pleasing.
It was mission accomplished, a third victory of the season over the Bairns bringing a further reward in helping Hibs leapfrog Motherwell into fourth place despite being only the team’s second win in ten matches.
However, no-one should underestimate the restorative influence victory can bring a side labouring as their confidence was sapped with each passing week.
Ropey the performance against Falkirk might have been at times, Hughes himself admitting his side rode their luck in stages but, if nothing else, the Hibs manager could reflect on how his players refused, as they might have done, to crumble when Mark Stewart pressed home the Bairns’ early dominance with the opening goal. Again, questions were being asked about the quality, or lack of it, in the Easter Road side’s defending.
Derek Riordan, though, came up with the perfect retort, delivering a trademark free-kick which soared over the defensive wall and curled down into goalkeeper Robert Olejnik’s right-hand corner less than two minutes later.
It was the Scotland star’s 15th goal of the season – although he insists it is 16, refusing to accept a League Cup strike against Brechin City which was recorded as an own goal isn’t his – and his fifth against the Bairns having helped Hibs come from behind at the Falkirk Stadium in August before delivering a double to sink them in Edinburgh at the end of November, a time when Hughes’s side were sweeping all before them.
Cast four points adrift at the foot of the SPL table, Falkirk’s confidence is as fragile as that of Hibs’, Steven Pressley’s players realising that matches are suddenly running out for them to ensure survival in the top flight again, having escaped the drop in the final minutes of last season.
And it showed as Hibs, who had seen Enoch Showunmi hit the bar and goalkeeper Graham Stack get a strong hand to a net-bound header from Brian McLean, took full advantage despite having lost playmaker Merouane Zemmama to injury after only 11 minutes, the little Moroccan devastated to have taken a knee knock on his return following a four-match absence.
Former Falkirk hitman Anthony Stokes saw his shot deflect off Marc Twaddle and beyond Olejnik – the sort of luck which seemed to have deserted him and his team-mates recently – before Sol Bamba got on the end of Colin Nish’s flick from David Wotherspoon’s cross to claim his second goal of the season – his other having come at this very same venue.
Hibs have been guilty of being incapable of holding on to a lead at times, but not on this occasion although Falkirk came close, Showunmi somehow missing from only a couple of yards out with an empty net before him while Darren Barr saw a header clip the top of the bar.
Stack was far busier than Olejnik at the other end although both Stokes and Riordan had opportunities to extend Hibs’ lead, leaving everyone in green and white just relieved to hear the final blast of referee Mike Tumilty’s whistle.
Hibs: Stack, Thicot, Hogg, Bamba, Murray, Zemmama, Rankin, Miller, Nish, Riordan, Stokes