I wrote last week about the ruggedness with which Hibs had been defending in recent times but the softness and the fragility of past Hibs defences was back in abundance at Easter Road on Saturday.
Jason Cummings looked set for the headlines as he grabbed a hat trick within 35 minutes but it was goalkeeper Mark Oxley and his defensive unit who cost their side two points in the race for the play offs.
Cummings, only playing after his one match ban was overturned, claimed three goals before the first half was out and just when you expected Hibs to go on and see out the match – perhaps scoring a few more – their mental toughness to do so was once again called in to question.
Playing the best football in this league doesn’t win you any prizes. Hearts are a dogged side, who set out to break up their opponents game, only starting to play when they achieve authority but boy are they clinical when they get their chances.
Hibs went one up, playing some fantastic football then for some unknown reason we just stopped playing.
Cummings’ deflected strike squirmed in to the net past hapless Jamie McDonald in the Falkirk goal. This opener should have seen Hibs exert their authority and look to extend their lead instead they took the foot off the gas. John Baird met a hopeful looking cross at the back post and sent a header in to the net beyond the flapping Hibs ‘keeper Oxley.
Oxley started to come, stopped and then was caught in no mans land after failing to fully command his area. Had he continued to come it would have been a relatively simple take for a keeper of his height. Instead he allowed Falkirk a soft reply and heaped unnecessary pressure on his teammates. Oxley wasn’t aided by his defensive colleagues either with Paul Hanlon getting caught under the ball in a central position and Callum Booth failing to put Baird under pressure at the back post.
Hibs came again though and Cummings claimed his second and third goals with penalty box finishes following a corner from Allan which Fontaine headed on and his third coming as Boyle countered before rounding an out of position McDonald and assisting for Cummings to nod home in the middle of the goal.
Half time came and the home side were well in command.
It didn’t take long before they had the chance to stretch their lead and kill off the game in the second half. Boyle again causing problems in the Falkirk defence with his pace. He stretched them out towards the right, took the ball beyond McDonald and with an open goal at his mercy he could only hit the side netting. Terrible from the on loan Dundee ace, even allowing for the fact he was at the edge of the area.
What came after that was unfortunately typical of Hibernian sides and something fans are only too familiar with. A two goal lead is precarious enough but when the Hibees are around and at their frustrating best, every opponent knows it only takes a minute for us to self combust.
Liam Craig scored an unfortunate own goal where an intended clearance hit off him and spun high in to his own net for 3-2.
Six minutes later, following incessant Falkirk pressure the Bairns were level. Peter Grant bagging the equaliser as Hibs switched off at yet another set piece.
Once again Oxley should have come and collected the inconspicuous looking ball in to the area. The groans around the stadium were more apathy than anger but we really need to stop conceding so soon after half time and throwing away cheap easy points.
We’ve lost seven points to a poor Falkirk side. A squad made up of British football journeymen. As much as that sounds disrespectful to our opponents it says more about our own desire and appetite (or lack thereof) when it comes to putting such sides to bed.
The ruggedness in defence was missing, the bravery on the ball had disappeared and the toothless attack – with the exception of Cummings’ goals – did nothing to warm up the frozen but expectant home support.
I don’t want to knock the club too much though, we are making strides towards where we want to be and with only one defeat in 16 the players should be pleased with their efforts so far. Their efforts will be magnified in the coming weeks and months in the run to the end of the season. Should they not realise the demands of promotion then these efforts will ultimately prove to be fruitless.
The players have got to keep their heads held high and look forward to their game versus Cowdenbeath. We must approach this as if it’s a Rangers or Hearts match. We must take our chances and get back to our no nonsense defending of recent weeks. We’ll dominate most games in this league with our sharp, cohesive ball retention but we must be a lot more incisive and clinical when it comes to making sure we win the football match.
One thing sadly lacking from our point of view is a proper leader. When at 3-1 up on Saturday and after missing a couple of early second half chances we really needed someone to take the game by it’s horns and dictate. We don’t have that type of player – a Claros, a Beuzelin or a Matty Jack. Someone who can put their foot on the ball, change the pace of the game and give a much needed direction.
A player of this ilk may well have seen us win more points this season, given that we have lost so many points from comfortable winning positions. We’ve played 20 league matches this season winning only nine. Had games finished at half time we would have won 12 games, only losing two so we’ve thrown away nine points this season from positive positions in games. That would have seen us maintaining a challenge for the title.
Do we switch off? Become too complacent?
We’ve got to earn the three points in every game, we are a scalp for the clubs in this league so they won’t give up until that final whistle blows.
I liked the fact that Stubbs seemed to be angry with the players post match. His after match briefing would have left the players in no doubt of his disappointment and future expectations ringing loudly in their ears on Saturday night.
His forthright honesty when saying that the result wasn’t good enough is exactly what we as supporters want to hear. It’s up to him now to demand a response and to push the players to go on a long winning run and firmly cement our place in the play offs.
“To let them come away with a draw is just not acceptable from my point of view.”
Stubbs’ management has been a breath of fresh air and I am sure his words above will resonate around the Easter Road changing room for a long time to come, unless his side can produce the goods against Cowdenbeath.
Hibs had a few players who were below their best but they still managed to produce some breathtaking stuff on Saturday. The move between Allan, Boyle and Cummings that led to our second goal was sublime. The pace of our new signings gives us an extra dimension in attack and Scott Robertson continually tried to get things going but it was not to be for the lacklustre Hibees.
Defensively I hope Jordon Forster returns from injury sooner rather than later and that we sign a right back in place of the sidelined David Gray. A back four containing four left footers lacked balance and we defended as if the imbalance was something of a noose around their neck.
David Gray is a massive loss so whoever, if anyone, comes in will need to be able to slot in straight away and produce the type of performances that Gray has every week.
A bad day at the office for Hibernian and questions remain over their mentality. Perhaps there is still a hangover from last season with regard to the players who suffered under Butcher.
We must guard against further frustrating performances in the future. There can be no room for nervousness on Saturday though and the fans need to do all they can to help the players.
See you all at ER on Saturday!
Andy Jeffrey is Scotzine’s fan blogger focusing on Hibernian Football Club. To write about the club you support get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.