MONDAY VERDICT - Thunder’s back but Falkirk exit in ‘electric’ storm
Sports Editor David Oliver looks back on an electric atmosphere in the Stadium as Falkirk returned to power, but still exited the William Hill Scottish Cup
Falkirk restored power to the Falkirk Stadium press box for the visit of Hearts, after an 11 month absence – and were rewarded with an electric atmosphere the likes that had not been enjoyed for at least three times as long.
The top league’s bottom side and the title favourites two leagues below played out a cup cracker in the throes of a storm with driving rain and swirling wind. But while the conditions were awful – there was even rain felt in the rear rows of the west stand – the fare on show, particularly from the Bairns was a source of pride despite the cup exit.
We’ve seen this one before, valiant effort from Falkirk but just missing out on the prize. It’s the Falkirk way. But after the misery of the past two seasons simply a return to the Falkirk way like this one was just so welcome.
They were brave and at times classy. They played the way the fans in the stand want their navy blue heroes to represent them. But they were unlucky too. Two strikes from Declan McManus off the post and a rocket from Gary Miller off the crossbar in a ten minute period had them on their feet. Josh Todd’s first half miss had their heads in their hands.
But they roared throughout and the pride outshone the frustrations by full time. Hearts had been there for the taking. They’d been shaken and were handed a passage into the quarter finals by a Sean Clare penalty.
Of course there was disappointment felt at the end result but the way Lee Miller and David McCracken’s players played, particularly in the second half, is a source of optimism for the league campaign to come, and they fully warranted the noisy backing from the stands that rumbled louder than the skies could.
Hearts were no shrinking violets either - on or off the park - and they were in a battle with the Bairns and had to resort at times to cynical fouls just to halt the Bairns’ charge. Declan McManus in particular got some rough treatment in the first half, but he was clever too in earning free-kicks, clearly learning from his Bairns boss Lee Miller.
He hit the post twice but with the cameras on and his contract running out the 19-goal striker did not let himself down. No-one in a navy blue shirt did. Not even Michael Doyle who conceded a silly penalty but made up for it and more with some lung-bursting runs forward, and recovery sprints back to defend.
The feeling is, if Falkirk can repeat this performance or close to it frequently between now and the end of the league season, the title is in the bag.
It will be.
But if the fans can turn out in such numbers and generate such a crackling atmosphere the product is there to match it. The players proved it, and proved themselves.
And this time, with Raith Rovers failing to beat Stranraer and still in reach, the same old story can be re-written.