Hibs 2, Queen of the South 0: Hibees finish third
Hibs got the win they wanted but not the goals they needed as they were forced to settle for third place in the Championship table.
Although goals from Niklas Gunnarsson and substitute Jason Cummings ensured the Capital side ended the season level with Falkirk, the Bairns finished above them by virtue of being two goals better off.
Those goals came after Queen of the South midfielder Mark Millar was sent off for cynically chopping down John McGinn in full flight, but it was a matter of too little too late for Hibs.
Now Alan Stubbs players face a gruelling play-off schedule which begins away to Raith Rovers on Wednesday night and, should they go all the way, will see them play a punishing seven games in just 24 days when their Scottish Cup final against Rangers is taken into account.
Hibs made just one change to the side which defeated Dumbarton in midweek, central defender Liam Fontaine returning after an eight match absence, coming in for Darren McGregor.
The Capital side were hoping for the sort of quick start they’d enjoyed against Dumbarton but failed to get it, Liam Henderson stinging the hands of James Atkinson with James Keatings unable to get his head over the Queens’ goalkeeper from the rebound.
As expected Hibs dominated possession without being able to create a clear cut opening in the first half hour, Anthony Stokes chancing his arm from range with a shot which dipped into the turf in front of Atkinson before landing safely in his hands.
And Atkinson was similarly untroubled when Keatings got in behind the visiting defence to meet John MGinn’s pass, the goalkeeper always favourite to take the Hibs’ striker’s shot from a tight angle.
Little had been seen of the Palmerston Park outfit in an attacking sense but ex-Hearts player Gary Oliver should, at least, have hit the target from Millar’s cut-back instead of ballooning the ball high over Conrad Logan’s bar.
Atkinson was warned for timewasting seconds before McGinn and Henderson combined to present Stokes with a shooting opportunity, the on-loan Celtic hitman striking the ball well only for the goalkeeper to get down to push his effort aside.
Hibs went close to breaking the deadlock two minutes from the interval, Henderson fizzing a ball towards the back post with Martin Boyle only inches away from making contact.
And bang on the half-time whistle Atkinson again came to his side’s rescue, throwing himself full length to his right to push aside McGinn’s curling shot which looked as if it was creeping in at the post.
The news that Paul Watson had put Falkirk ahead dampened an already subdued atmosphere within Easter Road, Hibs needing a minimum of four second half goals if they were to overhaul the Bairns.
But for Atkinson they would have got one of them when McGinn’s pass left Keatings with only the goalkeeper to beat but he managed to get the slightest of touches to divert the Hibs striker’s effort wide.
Queens were reduced to ten men for the final 35 minutes, referee George Salmond having no hesitation in flashing the red card after Millar had cynically chopped down McGinn as he raced past him.
Straight away Hibs almost capitalised, Henderson sticking out a foot to make contact with Boyle’s driven ball only to send it agonisingly wide.
Hibs need for goals was evident even before kick-off, head coach Stubbs again surprising the home fans by naming top scorer Cummings among the substitutes, leaving it until the 63rd minute before introducing the 20-year-old to the fray.
But it was right back Gunnarsson who finally unlocked Queens stubborn defence, the Norwegian bundling Henderson’s cross into the net from close range with 25 minutes remaining.
And Cummings added his 25th of the season with 11 minutes remaining, sending a downward header beyond Atkinson from Boyle’s cross before sending another shot skimming over the bar.
Hibs were piling it on now, Stevenson’s low cross missed by both substitute Chris Dagnall and Stokes as it zipped across the face of Atkinson’s goal and then Gunnarsson’s cross carrying just too much weight for Boyle to reach it with his head.