If Hibs are to go on and win the Championship title this season, the character they showed in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Falkirk will stand them in good stead.
Martin Boyle came off the bench to net a late equaliser after Lee Miller looked to have won it for the visitors. That they came away with a point having played the majority of the game with ten men after John McGinn’s red card prompted Alan Stubbs to hail the outcome as his most “enjoyable” result so far.
The Hibs boss praised the energy and resilience of his players, and considered it very much a point gained rather than two dropped, even allowing for Rangers’ slip at home to Morton. “I’ve got to say up until now, that’s probably been the most enjoyable result,” Stubbs admitted.
“For everything that went on throughout the game, I thought we showed unbelievable character. Our energy levels to keep going – even towards the end I thought we were getting stronger. Am I surprised? No, but it’s always nice when you can see what you’ve got within a group of players, the will to not be beaten and keep going. I thought we were fantastic.”
Stubbs made one change from Hibs’ previous outing back on the November 21 – a 1-0 win at Alloa. Marvin Bartley missed out after suffering from back spasms, with Paul Hanlon slotting in at the base of a midfield diamond.
A fairly scrappy opening ten minutes produced little in the way of attempts on goal, until James Keatings worked space for himself into the area and hit a stinging left foot shot. The ball appeared to hit Aaron Muirhead on the arm, but calls for a penalty were waved away, with the more vociferous shouts admittedly coming from the stands. The former Hearts man had another somewhat softer claim dismissed moments later, going over after a challenge from Muirhead, who was adjudged to have got the ball by referee Kevin Clancy.
Dominique Malonga was first to call Danny Rogers into action in the Bairns’ goal, but the on-loan Aberdeen goalkeeper was able to gather the striker’s firmly struck free kick at the second attempt after quarter of an hour. Keatings was proving to be threat, and almost opened the scoring when his low right-foot drive went right through Rogers’ hands and luckily for Peter Houston’s men, just wide of his left-hand post. He got down well again seconds later to block a low Jason Cummings effort. The Hibs top scorer then struck the woodwork when through on goal, although the offside flag spared his blushes.
Stubbs’ side were turning up the pressure on the visitors, with Malonga having another go from distance that fizzed over the bar. Rogers enjoyed another slice of fortune when Fraser Fyvie’s shot hit Peter Grant, and bounced just past the post with Rogers fully committed to going the other way. A sweeping Hibs move allowed McGinn to cut in from the right and flash a left-foot effort that looked goal-bound until Rogers tipped it round the post.
The Scotland Under-21 captain’s afternoon came to an end minutes later. Again cutting in from the right, he danced past two challenges in the area before overrunning it, and lunged over the ball – albeit one footed – to block Kerr’s clearance. Clancy didn’t hesitate in showing a straight red, which prompted an angry response from the majority of the Easter Road crowd. While it was more clumsy than malicious from McGinn, a dismissal wasn’t entirely unjustified.
His manager felt it was somewhere between a yellow and a red, and confirmed Hibs will appeal. “It was one of those in-between,” he explained. “John’s not like that whatsoever. He’s gutted because he feels he’s let everyone down but I can assure him he’s let no-one down. It’s youthful enthusiasm and eagerness. He does them and wins the ball on occasions. Today he’s been a fraction of a second out. We’ll appeal it.”
Stubbs withdrew Malonga at the break in place of Liam Henderson as Hibs reorganised, with Falkirk unsurprisingly enjoying greater possession and territorial advantage. That, combined with what the home fans perceived as some questionable calls from Clancy, contributed to a tetchy atmosphere – Clancy and Kerr taking the brunt of it. Clancy further endeared himself to the home support when he booked Cummings for diving after a tumble in the area.The striker was careful when addressing the incident after full-time. “I thought there was a bit of contact,” he said. “The referee didn’t think that but I don’t know. I’ll probably need to see it again so I better not say too much on it.”
Despite the numerical advantage, Falkirk still hadn’t forced Mark Oxley into making a save, a long-range Will Vaulks attempt their only direct attempt on goal in the second 45. Houston introduced Lee Miller with 15 minutes remaining to try and remedy the situation, and the one-time Hearts loanee did exactly that with seven minutes remaining. Oxley should have gathered Blair Alston’s initial shot, but the ball didn’t stick in the big Englishman’s gloves, and Miller pounced to prod home to the delight of the travelling Bairns in the south stand.
It was to relatively short-lived as Hibs levelled with the game moving into stoppage time. A low Cummings cross was helped onto the back post via Henri Anier’s heel, leaving fellow sub Boyle with the easiest of finishes, much to the relief of those in green and white.
A point kept the status quo at the top of the table with Rangers being held at home, but Stubbs was keen to impress that it’s still early days in the title race. “I’m not interested in Rangers,” he insisted. “I’ve said all along there’ll be twists and turns and maybe people will start to believe I know what I’m talking about. There will be plenty happening between now and the end of the season.”