BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
PETER Houston believes Hibernian will be wary of Falkirk’s never-say-die attitude as the sides get set for another ‘ding-dong’ battle.
But the Bairns boss reckons the Easter Road outfit will also have taken massive heart from proving their own determined perseverance with May’s historic Scottish Cup triumph.
Falkirk pipped their capital foes to second place in the Championship and then won their play-off semi-final in dramatic fashion with a stunning Bob McHugh strike deep into injury-time in the second-leg of a see-saw tie.
That victory left the teams with one win apiece and four draws over the course of a campaign that highlighted how evenly matched they were when Falkirk clinched the runners-up spot by the difference of just two goals.
And Houston fully expects another tense clash on Saturday when two of the biggest favourites for the title start the season with a bang.
He said: “They’ve been ding-dong battles.
“There’s been times over the course of the games where I think we’re going to win and Hibs have won, and there were probably times when Hibs were winning and doing well, and then we’ve come back late on.
“I think the games have been like that because both teams have been on edge when they have been winning or losing.
“One thing about our guys is that we never give up and I think the Hibs boys will probably have learned from that.
“But they were losing the Scottish Cup final with about 11 minutes to go and won it in the last minute.
“So, they’ve had their turn at it as well and shown that resolve, and credit to them.
“They could have had a bad week, but they turned it into probably the best week of their recent history.”
Houston knows going one better than last season will see him finally land his stated goal of returning the team he served as a player back to the top-flight.
Without Hearts and Rangers, the ‘big guns’ of the last two years, the Bairns – with Hibs and Dundee United the most-likely competitors – would appear to have a gilt-edged opportunity to win promotion.
But, with Blair Alston having left for St Johnstone and Alan Stubbs having recruited Will Vaulks for Rotherham United, question marks may be raised as to whether they can withstand the loss of two of their best players.
Houston, however, is convinced he has overseen steady improvements since taking over from Gary Holt in 2014.
He added: “In the two years, has there been progress? Yes, there has, in my opinion.
“We’ve sold five players and we’ve lost Rory Loy, our top scorer, and Blair Alston, who scored 12 last season, and we’ve just sold Will Vaulks, arguably one of our best players.
“But over the last couple of years we’ve tried to build up a stronger squad so that if one or two go out we’ve still got one or two who won’t lessen the team in any way.
“I think we’re getting there.
“Obviously it would be nice to be able to bring in more quality but I’ve got a group of guys who give me everything.
“And I think if you ask any manager and you’re getting everything from your players that’s all you can ask for.”