Even when results were good, they were poor
Prior to picking up one victory in their last five, Falkirk sat atop the League One table with a comfortable lead and a record of played 13, won 8, drawn 3 and lost 2. However, fans weren't exactly cock-a-hoop with what they were seeing from their side. A lot of matches seemed to be an unnecessary struggle for a team who, with Partick Thistle previously toiling, looked default champions of the third tier. Instead of post-match dissections praising the star players, supporters often lamented the overall performance and "oh well, at least it's another three points" was about as positive as it got.
We often see this in football and fans are typically derided for being too demanding. But teams who consistently perform well beneath the collective sum of their parts always come crashing down to earth sooner rather than later. A prime example was Celtic supporters vociferously stating their concerns with what they were seeing under Neil Lennon earlier this term. They were widely ignored by both the media and the club's board, but they were proved right in the end. The same goes for Falkirk.
They’re a full-time side in a part-time league
Sitting two points behind Partick Thistle with four games remaining wouldn’t have been considered a disaster at the outset. They are the only two full-time clubs in the division and favoured to battle it out for the title. But Thistle, despite being now top of the table, have been shoddy for most of the season and, prior to a recent run, were sitting outside the play-off places.
What’s unforgivable is Falkirk sitting level on points with Cove Rangers, who are playing in their first ever season at this level, and just two ahead of Airdrieonians. Full-time teams are supposed to dominate the third tier, especially one the size of Falkirk. The Bairns hadn’t even played since the early 1980s prior to their relegation from the Championship at the end of the 2018/19 season. In the last decade we’ve had the likes of Livingston, Dunfermline Athletic and Queen of the South smashing through League One. Sure, some sides have had their struggles (Dunfermline, for one) but it’s not like the managers responsible were welcome for too long.
They’re wasting a huge advantage
Not only do Falkirk have all the usual advantages that comes with being a full-time side – players are fitter, tactics can be worked on more, easier to recruit a higher standard of player – they’ve also had it in a campaign that’s been interrupted by a global pandemic and restarted with an obscene number of games to be played in such a short space of time. That should have hammered home the advantage, but instead results have taken a downturn.
Take Tuesday’s defeat to Peterhead for an example. The Blue Toon, like Falkirk, were playing in their seventh match since the lower leagues returned on March 20th. That’s seven matches in 30 days, or an average of one every four days. While the Falkirk players get to have some rest-time, maybe with some light training sessions to ensure they stay in peak condition, Peterhead’s players have to go to work the next day, some of whom will have occupations that take a physical toll. And with so many games coming thick and fast, there isn’t time for part-time managers to properly prepare for opponents. They just have a pick a team, give them simple instructions and hope their legs don’t fall off.
There are even more extreme examples. For instance, Dumbarton have played nine matches in the same timescale. Almost a game every three days. Falkirk drew with them 1-1.
The signings have been poor – or good players are looking average
Bit of a chicken-and-the-egg aspect with this. Did Miller and McCracken sign poor players? Or are the players good but they couldn’t get the best out of them? Either way, it doesn’t reflect positively.
Josh Todd, Sean Kelly and Aidan Keena were additions who’d proven themselves at a higher level. None of them have performed up to expectations. The same goes for returning club hero Blair Alston. This was a player who was a Championship stand-out where Falkirk pipped Hibs to second place behind Rangers and took a 1-0 lead in the second-leg of the play-off final. His career in the top flight didn’t work out, but he should have been a star in the third tier. Instead, he’s disappointed.
And that’s without looking at the likes of Scott Mercer, Mark Durnan, Aidan Connolly, Charlie Telfer and Connor Sammon. Players already in the squad who, based on their careers, should be doing a lot more at that level.
Odd tactics and team selections
In the recent defeat to Cove Rangers, Falkirk went with a 3-5-2 formation that had Dundee United loanee Kai Fotheringham, a 17-year-old attacking midfielder, operating at wing-back for the first time in his career. On the other flank they had Callumn Morrison, undoubtedly the team’s star attacker and best player this campaign, performing a role where he’d have to worry about defending as much as getting forward and making things happen in the final third. Both players, understandably, struggled.
Speaking of formations, they often changed on a whim. The shape changed several times over the previous four games. Miller even made a point of emphasising that’s Falkirk would change system, style and personnel based on opponents. Fans viewed this as the management team being far too negative. The thinking was simple: if you’re the best team in the division, pick the strongest XI and in a formation that suits and let other teams worry about how to stop you. Not the other way around.