Saturday 31 December 2016, 12.30, Falkirk Stadium
A final game of the year and it’s the Scottish Championship clash between Falkirk and Hibs.
It’s the second time we’ve seen Falkirk this season, after seeing their home win against Dundee United in September. They would be looking to get back on a winning run after no win in their last three games. A draw at home to Queen of the South before a defeat at Dumbarton then the previous weekend’s draw at Dunfermline Athletic has left them in fourth place. They named an unchanged starting eleven with David McCracken still missing from defence through injury.
Although we’ve seen Hibs youth team and Hibs Ladies this season, it’s our first sighting of the first team.
Hibernian were founded in 1875 by Irish immigrants, and have their home at Easter Road, where they have been since 1893. Their name is almost universally shortened to ‘Hibs’.
In the early days, players had to be members of the Catholic Young Men’s Society, but this practice was abandoned in the mid 1890s.
Around 1890, Hibs became homeless and they ceased operating in 1891. A lease on the Easter Road site was acquired in late 1892 and Hibs played its first match at Easter Road on 4 February 1893. The club views the period since 1875 as one continued history and therefore counts the honours won between 1875 and 1891, including the 1887 Scottish Cup.
Hibernian have won the Scottish league championship four times, three of which were won between 1948 and 1952, the last time they won it. They’ve won the League Cup three times, most recently in 2007 and the Scottish Cup three times, the aforementioned 1887, 1902 and 2016.
Despite only finishing fifth in the Scottish League in 1955, Hibs were invited to participate in the first season of the European Cup, becoming the first British club to do so, after Chelsea decided not to compete. They’ve featured in Europe several times over the years and have a few notable scalps, including Barcelona.
More recent history has been a bit up and down for Hibs. They have played in the second tier of the Scottish football since being relegated in 2014, although they won the Scottish Cup after a 114 year wait last season. Falkirk were the team who knocked Hibs out of the play-offs last season, although Kilmarnock were to beat the Bairns to retain their place in the top league.
Hibs sat in second place in the table behind Dundee United coming into the game. They had drawn their last two league games, most recently at Raith Rovers and needed all three points from the game to continue to challenge for top spot. They started with the same team which had begun in Kirkcaldy.
Falkirk and Hibs have met 11 times over the past two years and there have been 6 draws. The games have always been tight and competitive (and often entertaining) and there was nothing to suggest this game would be any different. We attended both legs of the play-off ties between the sides last season and they were great to watch. When the sides met at Easter Road earlier in the season, Falkirk grabbed a 1-1 draw, despite playing more than a half with ten men.
There were 6,747 at the game, including 1,984 in the away end.
The opening minutes were scrappy and littered with fouls. An early Falkirk free kick saw Kerr cross into the box, and Grant headed the ball back into the danger area, but the Hibs defence cleared.
Gasparotto had the first effort on goal in 9 minutes, trying his luck from distance, but it was well over Laidlaw’s bar in the Hibs goal.
Hibs first real effort of note could, and should have given them the lead. Shinnie played the ball through for Holt in 12 minutes and he took it round Rogers before cutting the ball back for Commons who somehow hammered the ball over the bar from close range.
In 15 minutes, some good build up play saw Muirhead on the right and his low cross came to Shepherd deep in the Hibs box. His shot came back off the post and to the feet of Sibbald who saw his effort saved by Laidlaw. The ball came back to Sibbald who hooked the ball into the net to give Falkirk the lead.
Just 90 seconds later, Commons threaded the ball through for Cummings as Hibs attacked. With the Falkirk defence claiming offside, Cummings slotted the ball past Rogers into the bottom corner to level the score.
Kerr had a go from outside the box in 26 minutes, but it was well off the target of the Hibs goal.
Hanlon picked up the game’s first yellow card in 28 minutes for bringing down Kerr as the Falkirk midfielder brought the ball forward.
Although not hugely entertaining, the game was going from one end to the other frequently, although often without a shot at goal from either side.
With half an hour gone, Gallacher had the ball on the left for Falkirk. His cross was cleverly headed down for Baird by Shepherd, but the striker somehow put the ball the wrong side of the post.
Baird featured again in 36 minutes, moving in from the right and sending a curling effort at goal that Laidlaw saved in the bottom corner.
The half petered out after that, with only a shot from Shinnie right on half time, which was blocked by the Falkirk defence, for the fans to see.
Falkirk would have been disappointed that they couldn’t hold onto the lead longer than they did, but both sides were trying to get forward quickly, with very little in the way of controlled football.
Hibs had a great chance to take the lead in 51 minutes when a Cummings cross was headed across goal by Holt, and Commons had a chance inside the six-yard box. He got his header all wrong though, and looped it onto the top of the net.
In 54 minutes, Holt’s cross came to Commons and his shot was saved by Rogers but came back out to Holt. He drove it back towards goal, but the defence managed to block.
McGregor was shown a yellow card in 63 minutes for taking out Sibbald as Falkirk came forward on the left.
Falkirk had a chance in 64 minutes when Baird found some space in the Hibs box, but the defence managed to block his powerful effort.
With 68 minutes gone, Hippolyte showed some great feet on the edge of the Hibs penalty area to create space for a shot, and his right footed effort beat Laidlaw but went inches wide of the post.
Taiwo was next to go in the book, fouling McGeouch in 72 minutes as the Hibs midfielder came forward. Kerr joined his team mate soon after for bringing down Shinnie in 80 minutes.
With four minutes to go, Falkirk got the chance that their fans had been hoping for. Hanlon gifted the ball to Gallacher, who played a great through ball for supersub McHugh. He managed to stay in front of the chasing Hibs defence, but with Hanlon breathing down his neck, he stabbed the ball wide of the target.
Straight after, the Hibs keeper appeared to handle the ball outside the box, but the referee wasn’t interested as Hibs broke forward. The ball came to Boyle on the edge of the box and he was hauled down by Grant for a free kick. Commons stepped up and unleashed a thundering effort that went straight through the wall and beat Rogers to find the net. It was hit with some ferocity, but it seemed too central not to have been stopped by someone.
Falkirk were unable to create anything further as Hibs closed the game down in the remaining minutes.
Hibs went back to the top of the league with the win and Dundee United lost to Dumbarton later in the day to mean Hibs would stay top at the turn of the year.
Not the greatest of spectacles with the wind and rain certainly playing a part. Both sides tried to go forward throughout, but there was little composure on show.
It was interesting sitting near the Hibs bench where the coaching staff of Neil Lennon, Gary Parker, Grant Murray and Alan Combe were all shouting instructions to the players throughout. Not great if you make a mistake.
Full Time: Falkirk 1 Hibs 2
Falkirk: 1 Danny Rogers, 4 Aaron Muirhead, 15 Luca Gasparotto, 14 Peter Grant, 23 Tony Gallacher, 21 Scott Shepherd (Miller 75), 7 Tom Taiwo, 8 Mark Kerr, 11 Myles Hippolyte, 10 Craig Sibbald, 9 John Baird (McHugh 67). Subs: 2 Lewis Kidd, 3 Luke Leahy, 6 John Rankin, 18 Lee Miller, 19 Bob McHugh, 28 James Craigen, 58 Deniz Mehmet.
Hibernian: 31 Ross Laidlaw, 2 David Gray, 24 Darren McGregor, 4 Paul Hanlon, 16 Lewis Stevenson, 48 Scott Martin, 10 Dylan McGeouch, 22 Andrew Shinnie, 15 Kris Commons (Forster 90), 35 Jason Cummings (Boyle 78), 9 Grant Holt (Graham 83). Subs: 5 Liam Fontaine, 6 Marvin Bartley, 17 Martin Boyle, 19 James Keatings, 23 Jordon Forster, 29 Brian Graham, 32 Otso Virtanen.
Referee: Crawford Allan