Falkirk manager Peter Houston is a happy man

Sitting pretty: Peter Houston in the dressing room at Falkirk Stadium. He sees his team getting mentally stronger. Photograph: Michael Gillen
Sitting pretty: Peter Houston in the dressing room at Falkirk Stadium. He sees his team getting mentally stronger. Photograph: Michael Gillen
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The Erasure hit revamped by Falkirk and used to promote their 2015 Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibernian was A Little Respect. It was all they had asked for but, in the aftermath, their manager, Peter Houston, thought it was the one thing missing. Hibs had dominated the tie but Craig Sibbald got the only goal.

The disappointed Hibs manager Alan Stubbs, inset right, had said that his men had done everything but score and, in his opinion, only one team deserved to be going through. In a bold rebuke, Houston told him to “deal with it”.

“Did you know that someone has made a video of that,” he says, with a wee smile and a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s on YouTube apparently. It’s clips of people like Jose Mourinho and Ronny Delia moaning about something and then it cuts back to me saying ‘deal with it’ and then it goes to Alan Stubbs and back to me saying ‘deal with it’, then someone else. It’s all these people complaining and me saying ‘deal with it’.

“If you lose, you learn from it and move on,” said the man who came into management late but is thriving in the role. Winner of the Scottish Cup with Dundee United, he almost repeated the feat last year with Falkirk and while he guided United into Europe, the current ambition is to steer Falkirk back to the Premiership. “The players here take responsibility and we make sure of that. You have to be humble and you have to give credit where it is due.”

Credit isn’t something that has been arriving in truckloads outside the Falkirk Stadium, despite the fact Houston’s team are on an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions, and have lost just two Championship games all season, to Rangers and Hibs. Their form, consistency and ability to rise to the challenge in recent matches against the division’s big two, taking four points from a possible six, means they entered the new year in second place in the league, ahead of Hibs on goal difference, albeit the Leith side have a game in hand.

But Houston understands them being overshadowed by two behemoths, who he says are more viable title contenders, and he and his team have been happy to operate without the same level of scrutiny and pressure.

In a week they play host to Stubbs’ side, and if they win that it is unlikely they will be able to stay out of the spotlight, lose it and they may again shrink into the shadows. But regardless, Houston believes his men can maintain their form. Back at the start of the campaign, he set them a target. Confident that 60 points would guarantee them a play-off spot, he wanted a return of 15 points from each quarter of the season. The players have, thus far exceeded that and currently have a 20 point cushion between themselves and fifth place.

“Rangers and Hibs have the resources and, in a way, you do look on enviously because Hibs have already tied up two new players and all credit to them because they are having a go.

“The likelihood is that we will be in the play-offs but I still fancy us. Play-offs are like cup ties and, in the cup final last season, Inverness dominated the first half, we dominated the second and I still believe we could have won that final and that still annoys me, but they were the third best team in Scotland and they had swept past the champions to get there while we hadn’t even made it into the play-offs. In a one-off situation we still came very, very close. I have learned to deal with it but I feel I have the experience to be able to set my team up against most teams in a way that can cause damage.”

He will test that on Tuesday, when his men face Dundee in their postponed Scottish Cup tie and he will be under the microscope again next weekend. A man who likes the puzzle of unpicking opponents, and pin-pointing weaknesses, he believes in certain horses for certain courses. “There is pressure and there are no easy games in this division. Playing Alloa on a tight pitch, with so many players sitting in, is every bit as difficult as playing Hibs or Rangers who will open up. Because of that there are different qualities you need in your team.”

That was why he dropped Lee Miller for the last head-to-head with Hibs. Despite the fact the experienced striker had netted five times in three games, his manager wanted more pace up top and left him on the bench.

“I spoke to him and explained why I was doing it and he understood and he didn’t go in the huff and he came on and scored. But then, against Rangers, because of the way he had played against Hibs I went with young Kevin O’Hara again but when I put Lee back in against Dumbarton and then Livingston he scores the two goals and he was our best player against Alloa last week. That shows his character. That tells you he has his head right and recognises that it is a team game. I think it would be the same with any of this group.”

In clichéd football parlance, there is a buzz about the place. With the majority of players signing up to a mindfulness and well-being course aimed at unleashing their Inner Buzz, their manager is seeing the positive results.

“Against Rangers, we were not prepared to accept losing. Even when Rangers got that late penalty, John Baird said ‘he’ll save this, he’s good at it’. The positivity within the group is really, really high and he was right, Danny [Rogers] did save it.

“I have a group of boys who will run through brick walls to try to get a result. You can see them getting stronger and stronger, mentally. I do see a difference in them because there is no criticism of each other, they move on and get on with it. Yeah,” he laughs, “I suppose they just deal with it.”