“I’m sick and tired of drawing games that we should have won,” was the exasperated reaction from Hibs boss Alan Stubbs after watching his side throw away yet another two precious points.
No side in the Championship has drawn more matches than the Capital club, six in all now after allowing Falkirk, who after this have probably assumed the mantle of being Hibs’ bogey club this season, to salvage something from a match which should have left them empty-handed. A hat-trick from Jason Cummings in the first half appeared to have the game won, John Baird’s equaliser six minutes after the teenager’s opener looking as if it was going to have no bearing at all on the outcome.
Indeed, Hibs’ advantage should have been extended minutes after the restart, Martin Boyle nicking a loose ball off the toes of Falkirk goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald at the edge of his area only to send his shot towards an empty net wide.
On such moments can games turn, Bairns manager Peter Houston admitting that miss had given his side a badly needed lift when they should have been left “dead and buried”, while Boyle could only hold his hands up and say: “I should have put that one away and secured the points – it was an easy chance.”
However, having said that, the on-loan Dundee forward made the pertinent point that he and his team-mates still enjoyed a two-goal lead, one he felt at that moment was unassailable.
Unfortunately, though, that belief evaporated as a Hibs’ defence, which had looked so solid in recent weeks – just three goals conceded in the previous five games – twice proved incapable of dealing with set-play deliveries.
Craig Sibbald’s corner found the head of Peter Grant, the ball taking a deflection off Hibs skipper Liam Craig before ending up in the net.
But Grant had a goal to call his own only minutes later, the defender finding himself in acres of space after Mark Kerr’s free-kick had cleared the heads of everyone in a crowded penalty area to slot the ball beyond Mark Oxley, who had appeared to have made a forward movement on both occasions only to then stay put on his line.
As a former centre half himself ,Stubbs could only shake his head in disbelief. He said: “You can do set-pieces every day of the week but you want your players to take responsibility, there’s one ball – go and win it. Unfortunately, we did not do that and we have let a team in to the game that should never have taken anything from it. If we were cut open and conceded two goals then you can accept that a little bit more than a couple of hopeful balls into our box that we did not deal with and that’s the most disappointing and frustrating thing.
“The players have been very good recently, I must emphasise that, but there were too many of us not at it. They need to step up, use this as a wake-up call and get back on it again against Cowdenbeath on Saturday.”
Hibs’ previous two encounters with Falkirk had left Stubbs frustrated, the Bairns winning by a single goal at Easter Road and then doing so again on their own ground, the Hibs head coach adamant his side had deserved much more than nothing on both occasions.
His frustration at those results, however, paled in the light of this capitulation. He said: “At 3-1 we find ourselves in total command of the game. We had a chance to make it 4-1 and I think that was the defining moment. But I do not expect to score three goals and not pick up the three points.”
The final result took the shine off Cummings’ first senior hat-trick, the youngster taking his tally to six in his last four matches and to 12 overall. After MacDonald made a hash of a shot, Cummings’ razor-sharp reflexes saw him direct Liam Fontaine’s downward header high into the net, and then nod home Boyle’s inch-perfect cross after he’d won the race for a Scott Allan through ball which left the Bairns goalkeeper stranded.
Cummings’ second and third strikes came after a bizarre incident in which under-fire referee Willie Collum appeared to award a goal after Baird had chested Rory Loy’s head flick into the net only to overturn that decision after a discussion with his assistant Lorraine Clark as the players prepared to restart the game.
Houston, though, had no complaints, revealing: “I went to see the referee and his assistant at half-time and what happened was the assistant said in the ref’s ear that if our No.35 had touched the ball then he was offside.
“It was frustrating. I was wanting a goal but they have called it right. Hibs had started the game the better. Our equaliser put us on the right foot and the goal being chalked off gave them a lift.
“We could have been 2-1 up but found ourselves 3-1 down. But the game changed again when Boyle missed an open goal. We could have been dead and buried but it gave us a lift.”
And, having seen his side haul themselves level, Houston admitted he was a touch disappointed not to have gone on and won the game, describing an acrobatic save by Oxley from Sibbald’s shot as “fantastic”, the goalkeeper then pushing over a vicious free-kick from Blair Alston deep into added on time.
Hibs also had a terrific opportunity to claim all three points, Stubbs’ latest signing Franck Dja Djedje, a second-half replacement for Boyle, finding himself in the right place to meet Dylan McGeouch’s cross only to power his header over while Fontaine twice went close, a downward header creeping inches wide as did a volley on the turn.
But, as Stubbs conceded, while Hibs hadn’t lost the game it did feel like a defeat, one which had further consequences for his side as they passed up the chance to open up a six-point gap on Falkirk and three in front of Queen of the South. Second-placed Rangers, having been firmly in the Easter Road outfit’s sights only a fortnight ago, have now extended their advantage to eight points.