Falkirk have become that irritating itch to Hibs. One that no matter how hard you scratch it just refuses to go away. To put it bluntly, Peter Houston’s side have got under the skin of the Capital outfit.
Seven long years have passed since an own goal from Brian McLean and a Derek Riordan strike earned Hibs a victory over the Bairns on their own patch at Easter Road, Falkirk emerging unbeaten on six occasions since November 28, 2009. In that time the clubs have met 15 times in total, Hibs winning just five of them – four away from home and the other that memorable Scottish Cup semi-final comeback of three years ago.
It’s a miserable record as far as they are concerned and yet today Neil Lennon’s players will be looking back on this one as possibly their best chance to have tipped it a little more in their favour, Falkirk pitching up in Edinburgh struggling to find the form of last season only to be reduced to ten men with an hour of the game still to be played, Tom Taiwo sent off for what referee John Beaton deemed a reckless challenge on his opposite number John McGinn.
While Lennon revealed he immediately believed the former Hibs player “could be in trouble,” Houston insisted Beaton and his assistant William Conquer had called it wrong, claiming video footage he had seen vindicated his player and that Falkirk should find the £1000 to launch an appeal.
It was a case of roles reversed as far as Lennon was concerned having seen Marvin Bartley twice sent off only to have the red card rescinded on each occasion, small reward when weighed against the five points lost in those games against Ayr United and Raith Rovers.
Hibs, however, failed to capitalise on that numerical superiority, the statistics – 59 per cent possession, 20 shots to Falkirk’s two and 18 corners to the Bairns one – demonstrating their dominance but also highlighting their inability to make that pressure count.
The solitary corner Falkirk gained came 13 minutes from time, John Baird taking the ball from the halfway line to knock it off McGinn, the striker later revealing he was just happy at that point to have won a bit of a breather for his team-mates, a momentary respite from the onslaught they’d endured.
But it got even better as Bairns skipper David McCracken won the ball in the air, knocking it down for Baird to hook home and set them up for the unlikeliest of wins.
Fair to say Falkirk’s joy at that particular moment wasn’t shared by Lennon, the Hibs boss again left bemused as to how his defence – as good as any in Britain with only six goals conceded in their previous 12 Championship matches – had proved so fragile at a set-play.
The heavy, exasperated sigh as he sat down to address his after-match press conference probably summed up just how he felt, Lennon admitting it wasn’t the lack of clear-cut chances that had annoyed him but the way in which his side had found themselves trailing.
“It was madness,” he claimed, “We have one set play to defend, do that and we win the game 1-0. It was a floated corner to the back post, we have three going for it but it gets headed down to Baird’s feet.
“It was poor from us. That’s when concentration has to be at it’s best. You are on top, they cannot get out, they are hanging on. It was their first corner, that’s what annoys me more than anything.” Having been one of those three defenders criticised by Lennon, Paul Hanlon salvaged a point, rising high to meet McGinn’s deep cross back over Falkirk goalkeeper Danny Rogers who, Houston felt, should have done better in that instant although he twice denied McGinn in the closing stages as Hibs frantically sought a winner, turning an inswinging corner from the midfielder over and then getting down to push his net-bound shot round the post.
Defeat would certainly have been a travesty as far as Hibs were concerned although their lead at the top of the table is now just a single point, Houston admitting that as much as his side earned the draw they didn’t deserve to win the game.
But Hibs defender Darren McGregor admitted as far as he and his team-mates were concerned, it was very much a case of two points dropped.
He said: “Every time we come up against Falkirk they are difficult to break down. They get behind the ball, they are physical and play off set pieces and throw-ins. We had numerous chances to go one or two up, never took them and paid the price.
“Thankfully Paul managed to get his head on one and level it up. From a positive perspective we are still top of the league but overall we are disappointed because we felt we had done enough to win the game.”
Lennon, however, conceded his side hadn’t created enough to do so, Hibs again finding it virtually impossible to find a way past a Falkirk side which kept everyone back bar striker Lee Miller as they sought to escape with a goal-less draw.
“Falkirk defended manfully,” he said. “But you expect that. My players know teams are going to come here and make it as difficult as possible for us, especially if they have gone down to ten men.
“We lacked a cutting edge, a creativity, that spark. Their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves but to me we did not make enough clear-cut chances to get excited about. We’ve been scoring recently, eight in our three previous games, but this time we did not create enough quality chances. It’s not something I want to dwell on too much but it is also something we will have to look at.”