Few cut quite as frustrated a figure as goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw as Hibs were forced to settle for yet another draw with Falkirk.
Sat on the substitutes’ bench for almost three months as Ofir Marciano established himself as Neil Lennon’s No.1, a rare opportunity presented itself to Laidlaw to remind the head coach of his credentials when the Israeli was called into his national squad for last weekend’s World Cup qualifiers.
After 90 minutes against the Bairns, Laidlaw emerged having not put a foot wrong, having not had a save to make but having conceded a goal. Although Hibs bagged an equaliser after John Baird’s strike, the feeling of frustration was palpable, with Falkirk playing 75 minutes with ten men after Tom Taiwo’s red card and Hibs laying siege to the Falkirk goal for the vast majority of the match. The draw was Hibs’ eighth with Falkirk in 15 games and left the Hibees without a home win over their Ladbrokes Championship rivals in seven years.
“It was hugely frustrating not to have a save to make and yet lose a goal,” admitted Laidlaw, who was beaten in Falkirk’s only attack of note in the 78th minute. “But that’s football, these things happen. What makes it worse, though, is that we’ve got a really good defensive record, only six goals lost in our previous 12 league matches.
“However, three of the goals we’ve conceded have been from set-pieces. We do work on trying to stop goals from such situations and we’ll keep doing so. It’s annoying because they’ve only had one chance, really a half-chance and scored. We’ve had nearly 20 corners, they’ve had one and managed to capitalise.”
The corner kick that led to Falkirk’s goal was borne out of a lung-bursting run from his own half by Baird which, Laidlaw believed, was done to give his hard-pressed defence a momentary respite as the Bairns desperately held out for a point, his assessment confirmed afterwards by Baird who, obviously, was delighted it brought even greater reward.
“I did think John was looking to earn his side a breather,” admitted 24-year-old Laidlaw, “He’s run half the length of the park and knocked it off John McGinn. They’ve put it into the box, we haven’t defended it well and we’ve lost a goal because he was allowed to finish from six or seven yards out.”
It was a moment to spoil Laidlaw’s day, the 6ft 5in stopper having not featured since the 2-0 win against St Mirren in Paisley at the end of August. The former Raith man was keen to take the chance offered by Marciano’s absence, especially with his rival for the gloves suffering a knee injury while training with the Israel squad last week, the extent of the knock still unclear.
Laidlaw said: “I knew the previous weekend I’d be playing. Our goalkeeping coach Alan Combe texted me to say Ofir was going away with Israel. It had been a while since I’d last played so I was looking forward to running out at Easter Road in front of a big crowd again.
“Obviously it’s been frustrating, but Ofir has come in and done really well so it was just a case of continuing to work hard in training and await another opportunity to show what I can do. I thought I slotted in okay.”
Laidlaw admitted he would liked to have been tested more than he was by Falkirk, saying: “I didn’t have a save to make and yet lost a goal which was very frustrating for me. You want to be able to pull off a couple of saves to show what you can do. Sometimes you get a quiet game, sometimes you are busy but there’s nothing you can do about that as a goalkeeper.
“You can’t make the opposition fire in shots for you to save. When you are up against ten men then usually you have even less to do so I just had to make sure I dealt with the balls that did come through, the pass backs and so on.”
There was no hiding Lennon’s desire to win the match as Falkirk continued to frustrate his side with resolute defending and good goalkeeping. Off came skipper David Gray and defender Liam Fontaine to leave Hibs with only Darren McGregor and Hanlon to deal with the threat of lone striker Lee Miller as top scorer Jason Cummings and winger Alex Harris stepped from the bench to join Martin Boyle and Grant Holt in the attacking third of the pitch.
A goal from Falkirk was probably the furthest thing from his mind at that point such was Hibs’ dominance but, insisted Laidlaw, it underlined Lennon’s winning mentality.
He said: “The gaffer was never going to settle for a draw. He wanted to change things to create more which I think we did only to be frustrated by that goal.
“At the end of the day we are still top of the table but unfortunately only by one point. We had the chance to make it three again and we should have won the game, definitely against ten men and widen the gap on Dundee United, but we have a couple of big games coming up and hopefully we can win them.”