IN THEIR first game of the post-Graham Rix era, Hearts secured a precious victory to keep a six-point cushion between themselves and Rangers in the battle for second place.
Falkirk 1-2 Hearts - March 25, 2006
Edgaras Jankauskas secured the points in the 81st minute following a neat piece of play from substitute Calum Elliot.
Valdas Ivanauskas, the stand-in manager, had done his nut on the sideline when Falkirk cancelled out Paul Hartley’s opener at the end of the first half.
Ivanauskas’s first selection was always going to be regarded as a Vladimir Romanov team no matter what combination of players he came up with and, in fairness, there was no other way to interpret the complete omission of Andy Webster from the line-up. Webster, who had refused to sign a new deal at Tynecastle, failed even to make the bench, the official reason for his absence being that he’d gone down with an illness. Perhaps he had, but you could hardly blame the Hearts fans for being cynical.
Webster’s replacement, Jose Goncalves, however, put in a tremendous performance. The Portuguese centre-back was assured in everything he did, unlike some of his under-performing team-mates further up the park.
Falkirk were aggressive and dogged. They created precious little, but they had a rough edge about them that Hearts found difficult to handle. At times, they over-stepped the mark. Liam Craig, the midfielder, was psyched to his eyeballs at various points early in the second half and he was lucky not to be sent off. He had to be led away from one collision scene by a team-mate and he got involved in another like a man spoiling for a scrap.
The home team were second best for most of the first half, almost falling behind as early as the fifth minute when Rudi Skacel saw his shot pushed away by Mark Howard before losing a goal in the 22nd minute. Skacel was heavily involved, scampering down the left and squaring for Hartley to bundle it home.
Falkirk then needed Tiago to throw himself in front of a Jankauskas shot inside the box in order to stay in the game. But Hearts suffered a setback in injury time at the end of the first half when Roman Bednar blocked an Alan Gow free-kick with his hand.
Referee Alan Freeland pointed to the spot, Gow stepped up, had his kick saved by Craig Gordon, but then followed up to score on the rebound.
Hearts replaced Skacel with Elliot midway through the second half and it was the youngster who provided the purpose and the accuracy that clinched the game.
Nine minutes from the end he cruised up the right hand side of the pitch before picking out Jankauskas with a precise pass. The big striker’s first touch was a little on the heavy side, but he got to the ball before the advancing Howard and put it away.