Hibs were condemned to Championship football next season as they lost a penalty shoot-out to Hamilton in a drama packed afternoon at Easter Road.
Terry Butcher’s side had held a two goal lead following the first leg at New Douglas Park in midweek but despite being well warned they were not safe, Hibs gifted Accies the early goal they wanted, Ryan McGivern surrendering possession cheaply for Jason Scotland to open the scoring after just 13 minutes.
The Lanarkshire side dominated the game but just as Hibs looked to be hanging on, Scotland carved out an opening for Tony Andreu to force extra-time.
The clubs couldn’t be separated after those 30 additional minutes but Kevin Thomson saw his spot-kick, the first to be taken, saved and although team-mates Ryan McGivern, Liam Craig and Owain Tudur Jones all converted, Jason Cummings, the goal hero a few days ago, was left having to score from his as Accies had hit the net every time, the striker left in tears as Hamilton goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert saved.
Predictably Easter Road, which had housed a crowd of more than 18,000 erupted in fury with demands that boss Butcher and chairman Rod Petrie go.
Butcher made just one change to the side which had won at New Douglas Park, Danny Haynes filling that wide right berth in place of Alex Harris.
Hamilton boss Alex Neil again elected to start the match on the bench but replaced Mickael Antoine-Curier up front with Scotland while Ali Crawford came in for top scorer James Keatings.
Haynes appearance, however, was shortlived, the on-loan Notts County player caught late by Jon Routledge and left writhing in agony on the turf to give Harris an unexpected early introduction to the game.
Accies got the early goal they wanted thanks to a dreadfully slack pass from Ryan McGivern which was picked off by Crawford who fed it to Routledge who, in turn, laid it in for Scotland to turn Michael Nelson and drill in a low shot which Ben Williams managed to get his right hand to but couldn’t prevent ending up in the net.
Heffernan had the ball in the net for Hibs two minutes later but was flagged offside before Scott Robertson saw low shot confidently held by Accies goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert.
It was an anxious time for the large Easter Road crowd, though, and the outstretched left boot of Williams prevented Louis Longridge making it two for the Championship side as they continued to keep Butcher’s players very much on the back foot.
There was no doubt Hamilton thoroughly deserved their lead and they continued to dominate only to have Routledge to thank to ensuring they retained that advantage at half-time, the midfielder perfectly stationed on the post to block Jason Cummings’ downward header from skipper Liam Craig’s corner.
Easter Road had been gripped by nerves and it almost got worse for Hibs when Jesus Garcia Tena got his head to Crawford’s free-kick, knocking it inito the path of Tony Andreu who could only hit the sidenetting.
Hamilton sensed there were more goals in it for them and twice within a minute of the restart they almost got a second, McGivern bringing off a smart tackle as Longridge bore down on goal before Williams spread himself superbly to block Scotland’s effort at his back post.
And McGivern brought off another goal-saving tackle as Scotland latched onto Tena’s through ball, the Northern Ireland internationalist timing his challenge to perfection as he needed to being the only Hibs player between the striker and Williams.
Harris had been ineffectual since his introduction and there were loud cheers when Kevin Thomson replaced him for the final 22 minutes, not a slight on the youngster but a sign of the fans’ appreciation of the midfielder to whom they were looking to bring a bit of composure to Hibs play.
Still it was Accies who pounded forward, Hibs shorting up their midfield again by removing Heffernan and putting on the towering figure of Owain Tudur Jones as the clock agonisingly ticked down.
Four added minutes were signalled and Hamilton made the most of them, Scotland’s cutback met by Andreu with only 60 seconds remaining to hammer the ball home and force the play-off final into an exta half-hour of play.
The sides couldn’t be separated in those additional 30 minutes, leaving that tension filled penalty shoot-out to send the Capital club crashing out of Scotland’s top flight with no guarantees that, unlike last time, they’ll make an immediate return.
Hibs: Wlliams, Maybury, Nelson, McGivern, Stevenson, Haynes (Harris 8, Thomson 68), Robertson, Stanton, Craig, Heffernan (Tudur Jones 83), Cummings.
Substitutes not used: Murdoch, Cairney, Collins, Forster.
Hamilton: Cuthbert, Gillespie, Canning, Tena, Gordon, Routledge (Ryan 80), MacKinnon, Longridge (Antoine-Curier 67), Andreu, Crawford (Neil 80), Scotland.
Substitutes not used: Currie, Devlin, Keatings, Kilday.
Referee: Willie Collum