Gutted Hibs defender Darren McGregor admits he was close to tears in the wake of Friday’s devastating play-off defeat to Falkirk after the Easter Road side were condemned to a third straight season in the Championship.
Alan Stubbs’ side failed to earn the right to take on Kilmarnock for a place in the Premiership following a 5-4 aggregate loss, including the dramatic 3-2 defeat at the Falkirk stadium.
Hibs had led through James Keatings’ brace after Blair Alston gave the hosts an early lead.
But Luke Leahy struck a sensational equaliser before Bob McHugh notched the winner with the last kick of the game.
After being on course for the treble at one point, Hibs’ season is now in grave danger of ending with a whimper as head coach Stubbs faces the difficult task of trying to lift the squad ahead of next Saturday’s Scottish Cup final against Rangers.
And McGregor admits the Bairns loss left him feeling the lowest he has ever been.
He said: “I’m absolutely devastated, almost in tears. It’s the lowest of the low, knowing we had the potential to go up through the play offs.
“I’m more aware of it than anybody else because I have been on the other side of the fence, judging as well, so to be in the midst of it and having a contribution towards it is doubly hard for me but I need to take it on the chin and move on.
“We had it in our grasp and to let it slip the way we did is reminiscent of times we’ve done that before and it just really hurts when you lose in that manner.
“That’s what they did to us the last time, so we’ve not learned our lessons and to lose the goals when we did, at crucial times, is just gut-wrenching.”
The future now looks bleak for Hibs both on the off the pitch with a third successive campaign in the second tier expected to have severe financial ramifications.
McGregor added: “Obviously there’s implications. I’m not the board of directors or (chief executive) Leeann Dempster, they would be able to tell you that, but of course there will be financial implications.
“There will be hindrances to budgets and getting in players. I am well aware of that.
“I knew coming into the game the potential pitfalls of not getting promoted but we just need to deal with that. We are in that situation now and that’s why it cuts really deep.”
McGregor also envisages teams trying to take advantage of Hibs’ predicament by making moves for their top assets, including Scotland international John McGinn.
He added: “No doubt there will be teams sniffing about. Everybody wants to play in the best league they can.
“It’s up to ourselves to go and do that next year but of course there will be hindrances being in the Championship, whether that’s players wanting to move on or not recruiting them but that’s not really my side of the fence.
“I’ll be here next year, just giving the same 100 per cent to get us out of it.”
After being beaten in the League Cup final by Ross County and having now exhausted their remaining avenue for promotion, next Saturday’s Scottish Cup final against Rangers is their last chance of success.
McGregor added: “That’s the beacon of light we can look towards.
“Just now, I’m really low, I probably will be for the next couple of days but you just need to get the professional head on.
“Although this is a massive disappointment, there’s another massive opportunity to right the wrongs of this and potentially win a cup that we have not won in over 100 years.”