Alan Stubbs was left flabbergasted after referee Alan Muir’s failure to award Hibs a penalty had a pivotal effect in allowing Falkirk to salvage a 2-2 draw in a topsy-turvy Premiership play-off semi-final first leg at Easter Road last night.
The hosts had roared back from the concession of a first-half Lee Miller goal to claim the lead early in the second half through goals from Liam Henderson and Darren McGregor. However, in what was the big talking point of the night, Hibs felt they should have been given the chance to extend their advantage to 3-1 in the 71st minute when Falkirk defender David McCracken clearly rolled the ball with his hand while trying to deal with a loose ball just outside his own six-yard box after he had slid in to tackle John McGinn.
It was to prove a critical moment in the match as Falkirk capitalised on this stroke of fortune to force a late equaliser when Bob McHugh’s low shot on the turn squirmed beyond the at-fault Hibs goalkeeper Conrad Logan.
Stubbs was clearly livid at his team’s penalty claim being dismissed but attempted to choose his words carefully in order to avoid sanction from the powers that be. He suggested that referees should be made to publicly explain their decisions in such instances. “I am a bit at a loss for words,” said the head coach. “I don’t think anyone means to get it wrong but when it’s so obvious, it’s very surprising that it hasn’t been given. It’s a huge call.
“The ref told me he’d seen it. Why didn’t he give it? If he saw it then I think everyone in the stadium knew it was a penalty. He has admitted he saw him touch it. That is why I think the referee should explain it. You just want them to get these big calls right. You ask for consistency but you want them to get it consistently right.”
Stubbs is confident that his team won’t allow the penalty decision to prove costly in Friday’s second leg. The Easter Road boss was hugely encouraged with a second-half performance which he felt dispelled any notion that his players are feeling the strain of having played 52 competitive matches this season.
“I don’t think we deserve to go in down at half-time, it was a deflected effort,” said Stubbs. “But I thought the response was brilliant from a [supposedly] tired team. We looked hungry, there was zest and energy about us, and real purpose about our play.
“You could see the energy in my team. If they were tired they could easily have felt sorry for themselves after going 1-0 down but you saw the response from them. That’s not the response of a tired team. It’s obvious when you’re tired because you can’t lift yourself to go the extra couple of yards, close people down and go past people. I saw my players getting stronger.”
Stubbs was in no mood to castigate goalkeeper Logan for his error. “We all make mistakes,” he said. “He’s got a big character about him. He’ll respond. He’s done a lot of good things since he came here – we’re not going to crucify him.”
Stubbs believes Hibs are still well-placed to progress to a play-off final against Kilmarnock next week. “The tie’s wide open,” he said. “We’re capable of going there and getting a result and Falkirk will be happy that they’re going back there with a draw when it could have been a totally different story. Even if we were going there with a lead, we’d still be going there looking for a win on Friday. Our task’s been made maybe a little bit harder but we’re capable of going there and getting a result, there’s no question of that.”