HEARTS made the headlines, their unbeaten run halted by a team who had the tactics and will to withstand the loss of an early goal and battle back to enhance their own chances of promotion.
Hearts - 2
Zeefuik (2), Keatings (73)
Falkirk - 3
Baird (33 pen), Loy (52), Sibbald (80)
Referee: D Robertson
But Falkirk deserved the plaudits.
Before the match the talk had been of the home side’s form, their 20-game streak without defeat, their reluctance to concede more than a solitary goal in the league on their own patch. They were up against a team they had battered 4-1 on their last visit to Gorgie but this time they proved a different proposition.
“I just think that it was pretty much a new team,” explained goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, who produced a couple of impressive saves, one at point-blank range from Sam Nicholson, to play his part in the triumph. “We had a new team and new manager and sometimes it takes a while to gel and now we are seeing the results. We have added a little bit more experience with Mark Kerr and John Baird.
“We were young and a little bit naive at the start of the season. A lot of them had played games in the Championship but were still inexperienced players. Now we have a good mix of young talented players and a few old heads in the team..
“At the beginning of the season, we had only myself and David McCracken who were the really experienced players in the team. Now we’ve got a wee bit more who have been there and done it and you can see the difference on the pitch.
“That was a great team performance and that’s what we have been doing well over the last eight or nine weeks. We have only lost one in ten now.”
But it wasn’t an easy three points, with Hearts taking a very early lead. The strike partnership swept through on goal with real intent, linking up well before Genero Zeefuik, making his home debut slotted past the former Tynecastle goalkeeper. “We wanted to start the game very well but were 1-0 down after two minutes, which was not great,” admitted MacDonald. “But we showed great character, as we did a couple of weeks ago against Hibs at Easter Road when we were 3-1 down at half-time and came back to 3-3. You can see there is a lot of character in the team now. We never give up and the boys put in a great shift.
“On the attacking side of things, we were great and defensively I thought we were superb. Everybody did their job and it was a thoroughly deserved victory.”
Falkirk were under the cosh for much of that opening period but by the time Jordan McGhee brought down Rory Loy in the 32nd minute, just inside the box, and Baird converted the spot kick, they were looking a viable threat to the Hearts unbeaten run.
Loy then sent a long-range strike past Neil Alexander to give Falkirk the lead for the first time, but in the 72nd minute substitute James Keatings pulled things level.
In a thoroughly absorbing game, which ebbed and flowed, things could have swung either way at that stage but it was fitting that it was Craig Sibbald, who had been full of confidence and invention all day, who put the visitors back in front, showing composure on the edge of the area, carving out space and curling what proved to be the winner into the corner of the goal.
It was a win that moved Falkirk above Queen of the South, into fourth place, and one of the promotion play-off spots. “We are chasing a play-off spot and results went for us with Queen of the South losing to Hibs,” said the Falkirk keeper. But given the context, it would be silly to claim this was merely another three points.
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“It means a lot to be the first team to beat them. Hearts have had a target on their back and every team was trying to be the first team to beat them. That’s a great thing for us and hopefully we can take great confidence into the rest of the season now.
“Hearts have been fantastic this year. You can’t take anything away from them – they are a fantastic team and even in spells against us they showed that. We played really well to combat that. But they have a lot of excellent, confident young boys in their dressing room and I don’t think this defeat will affect them. They’ll kick on and start again on Monday. I think there’s a very good chance they’ll still win the league.”