Bairns fall flat in February

Alex Jakubiak got his first Bairns goal. Picture Michael Gillen.
Alex Jakubiak got his first Bairns goal. Picture Michael Gillen.

Falkirk 1 Livingston 3

Falkirk’s resurgent January is all over and February has started off on the wrong foot.

Livingston manager David Hopkin contested Paul Hartley's viewpoint after Shaun Byrne was fouled by Andrew Nelson. Picture Michael Gillen.

Livingston manager David Hopkin contested Paul Hartley's viewpoint after Shaun Byrne was fouled by Andrew Nelson. Picture Michael Gillen.

Goals from Alan Lithgow, Scott Pittman and Rafa de Vita gave Livingston their third win of the season at Westfield.

Falkirk were flattened when the second goal was headed in by Pittman though pulled one back through Alex Jakubiak, but by then the game was beyond them and they failed to take advantage of the postponements affecting nearest rivals Dumbarton and Inverness.

It was a tempestuous encounter, short on quality and high on niggles – unsurprising given this is the fifth time the sides have met so far this season, and the third time in six weeks. Falkirk struggled from the outset and the first half was a non-event from a Bairns perspective – and began on the wrong foot with the hosts told to shoot towards their own fans in the south stand for the first half.

That end of the ground has seen some epic late victories, but playing there in the first half, there was little to get excited about.

Lewis Kidd kept Livingston out early on. Picture Michael Gillen.

Lewis Kidd kept Livingston out early on. Picture Michael Gillen.

Partly that was down to Livingston spoiling tactics, Nicky Cadden was booked for a cynical tug to halt a Reghan Tumilty

charge and Craig Halkett somehow escaped punishment for throwing an arm into Craig Sibbald’s face. But it was also through some solid defending from the West Lothian side. They know what they’re good at and don’t complicate things – and it works.

Robbie Thomson beat out a Lee Miller effort in the second minute and Lewis Kidd headed a Halkett header off the line in a start which was all about the visitors.

They got the lead through defender Alan Lithgow’s strike from de Vita’s free-kick, after Andrew Nelson had been fortunate to escape a booking for a late - but not malicious – challenge on Shaun Byrne.

Craig Sibbald was struck in the face in the first half. Picture Michael Gillen.

Craig Sibbald was struck in the face in the first half. Picture Michael Gillen.

de Vita, who scored the winner here in September to knock Peter Houston’s Bairns side out of the Betfred Cup, curled a free-kick into the box and it broke to Lithgow and the ex-Clyde man beat Robbie Thomson with the outside of his boot.

Falkirk frustrations grew as half-time drew near, and Sibbald in particular was regularly in John McKendrick’s ear. They had a chance for an equaliser two minutes from the break though when Sibbald slid in on Lithgow on the touchline and inadvertently sent Nelson into the box. He beat Halkett and one-on-one with Neil Alexander, tried to be too cute and prodded into the side netting.

The Bairns looked more composed after the restart but two goals in quick succession curtailed their aspirations and an already flat performance got flatter.

Almost from nothing, a Jordan Thompson break up the left saw the former Raith and Rangers man shoot or cross from the wing and the powerful ball in was glanced over Thomson by Scott Pittman rushing in to follow up for the second on 58 minutes.

Paul hartley had no complaints over the winners of the game after a flat performance from Falkirk. Picture Michael Gillen.

Paul hartley had no complaints over the winners of the game after a flat performance from Falkirk. Picture Michael Gillen.

It flattened the Bairns and for several minutes they seemed lost. Ryan Hardie could have extended the lead when he lobbed Robbie Thomson from an angle in the next Livi attempt. Thomson looked resigned to conceding his third but it bounced wide. The third came not long after though on 62 minutes.

A set-piece delivery from de Vita looked to have flown straight into the net though Hardie was claiming a touch.

The game was beyond them and Paul Hartley’s gambling substitutions, throwing Alex Jakubiak on for Tom Taiwo and Rory Loy replacing Nelson in attack couldn’t turn the game, though the former sub, on loan from Watford, did find the net on 73 minutes, digging out a Craig Sibbald pass from his feet and beating Neil Alexander from the edge of the area.

It was too little too late.

This had been Falkirk’s chance to capitalise on Inverness and Dumbarton around them in the league table being inactive, but instead they conceded impetus in their fight from relegation danger.

Brechin await on Tuesday, and the Bairns were watched this afternoon by former Falkirk captain Darren Dods, now Brechin boss.