Falkirk and Hibs will have a promotion play-off shoot-out on Friday after a pulsating first leg at Easter Road.
Like previous clashes it was tight between the sides, and like many of Falkirk’s recent games, the scores were settled by super-sub Bob McHugh.
The striker struck ten minutes from time, on the turn after David McCracken’s header. The strike wriggled under Conrad Logan and over the line to level scores and send the sides to Westfield for a make-or-break match to meet Kilmarnock.
The sides can barely be separated this season and have served up some crackers in their six previous meetings in the past year. This one was no different, but it was a cagey opening and the most cautious they had been with one another. By the end it was end to end drama with tackles flying.
It was almost a half hour of getting the measure of their opponents and for that spell the hosts had the better of the chances.
Fraser Fyvie blasted over from the edge of the box, and went close again in a goalmouth stramash when his shot, then Liam henderson’s follow-up caused panic in the Bairns box with Danny Rogers off his line to retrieve Anthony Stokes’ cutback. However Jaosn Cummings deflected the shot just wide of goal.
Paul Hanlon had two close calls too, having a header clawed off the line by Rogers and another float over after the defender climbed above David McCracken.
Falkirk moves were sporadic, but their best passage of play, just after the half-hour brought the goal.
After some excellent build-up Lee Miller was hacked down by Darren McGregor on the edge of the box. Will Vaulks, Blair Alston and Luke Leahy debated the set-piece, with the latter taking control. He blasted against the defensive wall, but the rebound fell kindly for Tom Taiwo. The midfielder volleyed an effort at goal which struck Lee Miller’s foot and flew into Conrad Logan’s top corner.
The giant blond keeper raced to the linesman for respite, but David Gray had played both Miller and Craig Sibbald onside.
The Bairns’ support were ecstatic, and the cacophony of noise that erupted at the start of the game returned, only the half-time interval silenced them.
Both sets of fans had added to the atmosphere. They came together in a 14th minute applause tribute to Chris Mitchell, but backed their teams ferociously.
The pre-match ‘needle’ was evident on the pitch too. While the supports tried to drown the other out in volume, John Baird went nose to nose with henderson, and Sibbald was fortunate not to see a card for a horrible early challenge - studs up - on Dylan McGeouch.
But the Bairns led at the interval, or the quarter point in the two-legged promotion play-off.That shouldn’t have been the case seven minutes into the second half. Stokes rounded David McCracken to go one-on-one with Rogers but blasted over the bar.
Their goal came shortly afterwards though. Stokes nodded a header back across goal with Falkirk’s defence drawn to the on-loan Celtic player at the back-post. It left Liam Henderson front and centre of goal to smash the ball off Danny Rogers, the bar and finally into the net.
It didn’t rain but it poured for Falkirk. Just six minutes later they were behind. Darren McGregor’s header fired into the net and it could have been even more.
The Bairns got off lightly when David McCracken and Rogers slid in to foil Cummings, but with danger still lurking, McCracken rolled the ball with his hand and cleared. Alan Muir had an excellent view, but gave no penalty. Replays make the decision even more baffling, but without it - and Bob McHugh’s now typical intervention - the tie still hangs in the balance for Friday’s powderkeg second leg.