So Hibernian's turbulent relationship with the Scottish Cup continues. It has been 113 years since the Edinburgh club won the tournament and just 11 months since they were humiliated by city rivals Hearts in last season's final, and for much of this coruscating semi-final it appeared their misery would be prolonged.
They trailed 3-0 at the break, the defensive frailties that scarred the Easter Road side's last outing at Hampden exploited by a Falkirk team whose average age of 22 was disfigured by 37-year-old Darren Dods.
However, Gary Holt's side wilted, their vigour drained by the expansive pitch and oppressive occasion and their dreams of a final against either Celtic or Dundee United shattered by Leigh Griffiths. The Hibernian striker, who scored the winner at this stage last term, missed a penalty at 3-1 but his stunning winner with five minutes of extra-time left condemned Holt and his shattered players to defeat in the manager's first game in charge.
Little over an hour-and-a-half earlier, Holt had stood shaking his head on the touchline, scarcely able to believe how the opening minutes of his tenure had unfolded. Falkirk, too, had been beaten the last time they played at Hampden, losing to Celtic in the semi-final of last season's League Cup, but showed none of the apprehension that hobbled Hibs. Indeed, it took just six minutes for the First Division side to take the lead. Lyle Taylor's cutback skipped out of Blair Alston's reach, but rolled into the path of 17-year-old Craig Sibbald, who calmly scored.
Wounds that, after 11 months, were only beginning to heal among the 17,000 Hibs supporters had been opened within minutes. Surely not again? Their players, four of whom started in May, seemed similarly spooked and Falkirk sensed as much. Sibbald speared a deep free-kick into the Hibs area, panic ensued and the ball fell to another 17-year-old, Conor McGrandles. His hooked delivery into the six-yard box should have been dealt with but, as Paul Cairney hesitated, Jay Fulton stole in front of him to nudge past Ben Williams.
The goalkeeper threw his arms up in despair at the defending and he was left exposed again on the half-hour. Alston won a challenge and the ball squirted to Taylor, whose low shot was saved by the goalkeeper but only into the path of Alston, who rolled in the rebound.
At that stage, the pain had got too much for some Hibs fans, who streamed out of the ground with the spectre of another 5-1 looming. "I'd have done the same," said a rueful Holt. "But I told the boys at half-time Hibs would come out with all guns blazing." He was right.
Leigh Griffiths and Alex Harris began to impose themselves and hauled their side back into contention six minutes after the break. The latter had already hit the frame of the goal twice when his 30-yard lash took a decisive flick against Dods and deceived the goalkeeper.
Suddenly, Falkirk's inexperience began to show. Their young legs tired and rashness crept into their hitherto composed play as Hibs took command. Griffiths headed over from five yards, then spurned an even clearer chance after Stewart Murdoch was adjudged to have tripped Danny Handling in the area. His penalty was low and hard, but Michael McGovern saved, then thwarted Eoin Doyle's rebound. Griffiths, though, would not be denied for long. Ryan McGivern released 18-year-old Harris down the left and he slid the ball in for Hibs' top scorer to plant past McGovern.
With 12 minutes left and just a one-goal deficit, Hibs were transformed. Falkirk, minds now as exhausted as their bodies, buckled. No one closed down Doyle as he strode forward, leaving him time and space to skid a low shot into the net with seven minutes of regulation time remaining.
The prospect a further half-hour was almost too exhausting to contemplate, with even referee Iain Brines replaced after pulling up lame. Hibs kept at it, though. Griffiths had a legitimate effort disallowed for offside before he edged Hibs ahead, gathering the ball 30 yards from goal after his own corner was cleared and rasping a stunning strike across McGovern and into the net. "I've not experienced anything like that in my life," Pat Fenlon, the Hibs manager, said. His team have, though, and face having to do so all over again next month.
Hibernian (4-2-3-1): Williams; Clancy, McPake, Hanlon, McGivern; Claros, Thomson (Taiwo, 65); Harris, Robertson (Handling, 32), Cairney (Doyle, 46); Griffiths.
Falkirk (4-1-4-1): McGovern; Duffie, Dods, Flynn, Kingsley; Murdoch; J Fulton (Weatherston, 73), Sibbald, Alston (Grant, 65), McGrandles (Higgins, 78); Taylor.
Man of the match Griffiths (Hibernian)
Match rating 8/10
Referee Iain Brines.Reuse content