Falkirk 1 Hearts 2: Fight returned but damage done

Will Vaulks's run gave Falkirk the chance for the goal
Will Vaulks's run gave Falkirk the chance for the goal

Falkirk showed the fight their manager demanded, but it wasn’t enough to stop the rampant league leaders Hearts.

Two first half goals for the visitors - a thunderous Kevon McHattie blast and another from Soufian El Hassanoui – was enough got the victory but a second half strike from Botti Biabi gave the Bairns hope.

Falkirk were lacklustre in the first half but worked tirelessly in the second to almost redeem themselves and take something from the match.

The first half though was one to be forgotten. Indeed Neil Alexander, Hearts goalkeper, would struggle to remember doing very much in it at all.

After a Remembrance ceremony and pipe band the Bairns kicked off, and it was a rare foray forward for Falkirk who were on the back-foot for the majority of the opening exchanges.

Compressed in two banks of bodies, save for Rory Loy, thr Bairns camped infront of their penalty area to stave of Hearts, but so tightly packed were the home side the visitors passed around at will.

Jamie McDonald made a very good stop close in from El Hassanoui with the Bairns unable to clear their lines and as the pressure increased it told.

Some excellent build-up play from Billy King on the left-side teed up Kevin McHattie for a fierce shot at goal which flew over MacDonald and hit the net. The goal was a good thing for neutrals, forcing the Bairns out more to seek an equaliser and show the belief Peter Houyston claimed was lacking last week at Ibrox.

Out Falkirk came, with Craig Sibbald and David Smith running direct at Hearts but they were too easily picked off and Hearts maintained the pressure and with added space to play in the second was inevitable and was duly converted on 36 minutes by El Hassanoui.

Falkirk managed the furthest up the park they’d been just before his strike when a Smith free-kick curled wide of the goal from 20 yards out after a foul on Sibbald.

The Bairns even managed a corner on the stroke of half-time but David McCracken was penalised at the set-piece despite rising highest to head at Neil Alexander who had an anonymous first 45 minutes.

The Falkirk captain may be in trouble with the SFA though as Calum Murray did not show him a card for an altercation with Hearts’ goalscorer El Hassanoui which left the striker writhing in agony. The melee which surrounded the prone player however brought a booking for Luke Leahy and Alim Ozturk plus a warning for Rory Loy.

It was one of the few instances of Loy’s involvement. The striker has become a peripheral figure during Falkirk games, tirelessly running for lost causes but the Bairns are rarely able to utilise his movement.

That changed three minutes into the second half when Peter Houston made a double swap. Peter Grant was replaced by Botti Biabi in an attacking switch while David Smith was replaced by Alex Cooper in a like-for-like change. With 4-4-2 the Bairns attacked and raised the intensity and looked likelier to score than they had - though after just one touch in the box in the first half that wasn’t particularly hard.

Loy went very close to breaking the deadlock with a shot that was defelcted into the air, while sub Cooper twice tested Neil Alexander in front of the south stand, especially with a free-kick that the goalkeeper flew across the goal to grab.

The complexion of the game had changed with the substitutes and the change was made evident when one scored for the Bairns.

It was a great waltzing run from Will Vaulks which began the chance and he fed wide to Rory Loy. Able to drift wide and Falkirk still maintain an attacking presence with Biabi on the park, he cut low across the box and the pass was helped on by Blair Alston. Botti Biabi trapped the ball, paused spun his marker and squeezed the ball across Alexander and into the net to give the Bairns a lifeline.

The mood in the ground changed as Hearts fans became edgy and Falkirk fans hopeful, but Hearts shut up shop. Breaks on the counter attack were more prevalent with Falkirk playing a high line, but the charged Bairns continued to press but the visitors held out, only just.

With a minute of the 90 to go Joe Shaughnessy knocked an unbelievable opportunity over the bar, connecting to a Craig Sibbald free-kick on the goal-line rushing in at the back-post and steering the ball over, when any touch looked like a certain goal.