And then the talking stopped. Bob McHugh had had the last word. Again.
Big game players? You bet they’re big game players.
And Falkirk’s never-say-die squad saw off Hibs in yet another thriller between the sides and lined up another two big games–and a shot at vengeance against Kilmarnock.
Alan Stubbs has put pressure on Falkirk. Fraser Fyvie questioned their mentality. Jason Cummings insisted the Bairns would be scared of promotion favourites Hibs.
STORY OF THE MATCH: Matchday ‘as-live’ blog
In the end, the Bairns did their talking on the park and consigned Hibs to a third straight year in Scotland’s second tier.
When the pressure is on, Falkirk are at their best. They’ve chased games against Hibs this term, and in all but one occasion taken something fromthe game. With ten minutes to go the pressure was on again.
Then Luke Leahy thumped the Bairns level with a howitzer from 25 yards. It screamed past Conrad Logan and 6,000 Bairns in the sold-out Stadium yelled. It levelled scores on the night, and on aggregate. Extra-time seemed likely.
But Hibs put more pressure on the Bairns in the final ten minutes. Ex-Bairn Anthony Stokes clipped the bar and Cummings smashed a 35-yard shot off it. The Hibs striker replaced James Keatings whose double had put the visitors in command after Blair Alston had given Falkirk a 13th minute lead.
They led again, crucially, in the 92nd minute when Bob McHugh swept in the winner from Will Vaulks’ long throw – a combination that
brought McHugh’s equaliser in the league at Easter Road last month.
All there was time for after it was three kicks of the ball by Hibs to restart the game before Craig Thompson drew the game to a close. The
talking stopped. The singing started. It rarely ceased during anunforgettable Friday.
Falkirk Stadium was sold out. Both supports were as hyped as the other and the atmosphere was everything
a play-off should be and testament to their introduction three years ago.
WATCH IT AGAIN: Falkirk TV re-run of an epic eveningFalkirk flew at Hibs in the opening quarter of an hour, channeling all their play down the left-wing through Craig Sibbald and the irrepressible Leahy. The defender’s crosses were Falkirk’s chief attacking outlet, one even deflected into the top corner but was batted out by Logan before the Bairns opened the scoring.
Leahy and Sibbald were involved. So too were Will Vaulks, John Baird and McHugh. The build-up was slick, the final pass wasn’t but skidded into Blair Alston’s path and he tucked the loose ball into the net.
The midfielder may have been playing his last game for Falkirk. It seemed that way when he was substituted in the second half with his side trailing 2-1 to Keatings’ double which gave Hibs the advantage at half-time. It wasn’t though.
David McCracken was fortunate to escape concession ofa penalty in the first leg, but he was just as blatant in conceding one this time, hauling down Keatings with a lunge after the Hibs man had stepped away from the Bairns captain.
He slammed in the equaliser on the half-hour then exposed Danny Rogers with a floated header over the flat-footed goalkeeper three minutes later.
The game was turned on its head, but Bob McHugh redressed the balance with the final kick.
Peter Houston has made some inspired switches at half-time this term; both tactically and in personnel. He did it again.
Falkirk improved after the break, brought on Lee Miller, Myles Hippolyte and Scott Shepherd for Mark Kerr,Baird and Alston and weathered a Hibs storm.
Liam Henderson bossed the second-half by dropping into the space behind Stokes in attack, but Hibs couldn’t beatRogers throughacombination of great goalkeeping, brave defending and unfortunate finishing.
Falkirk had a go themselves, defensive duo McCracken and Vaulks were denied. But the unlikeliest of sources carved open Hibs and contributed to the equaliser. Aaron Muirhead lumbered forward, played a one-two and chased McHugh’s backheeled lay-off.The right-back
couldn’t get his shot away but fed wide to Shepherd. The cross was headed out by David Gray but returned with interest by Leahy, who clocked 62 miles-per-hour bringing the Bairns level.
Then the game tipped end to end. Cummings rattled the woodwork, Hippolyte launched throws into the box but one from Vaulks was smashed in for the 92nd minute winner.
Hibs hadn’t Hibsed it. Falkirk had McHugh’d it.