Testing time in Bairns trial

Date: 17/11/12.   LIVINGSTON. Braidwood Motor Stadium. Livingston v Falkirk.
Date: 17/11/12. LIVINGSTON. Braidwood Motor Stadium. Livingston v Falkirk.

Falkirk are now joint second bottom of the Irn-Bru First Division.

Defeat at Livingston, coupled with Hamilton’s win over league leaders Partick this the night before saw the Bairns slip down a rung in the league ladder, and Airdrie’s point at Cowdenbeath matched the Bairns’ tally for the season.

Yet boss Steven Pressley was in praise of his players’ second half performance.

Granted, it was much improved from the dismal 45 minutes prior, and the introduction of Craig Sibbald and Thomas Grant added a fire and combative streak late on to the meek Bairns.

But the first half left them with far too much to do.

Passes went astray, Burton O’Brien was given the freedom and respect to dictate the game from the midfield on his first senior start since leaving Falkirk in May 2011. Communication among the defence was not obvious.

Even Lyle Taylor, so often the Bairns’ get-out clause, looked estranged up front, and headed uncharacteristically wide unchallenged when presented with the only first-half Falkirk chance.

They made more in the second when Pressley believes they improved to “as well as we’ve played all season”, but they couldn’t help but improve from a first half he described as, yet it still wasn’t good enough to defeat a mediocre Livingston side that played Falkirk at their own passing game.

Only once did Falkirk string a set of passes together. On the left wing it was Fulton, Murdoch, McGrandles, Kingsley and Haworth invovled, pinging the ball around like a computer game. But someone pulled the plug. The first half was more x-rated than x-box.

Even the influence of a former Scotland cap in trialist Robbie Neilson alongside a seasoned pro in Darren Dods has not cured the Bairns’ defensive ills.

After Marc McNulty steered Livingston ahead, tucking the ball away after nine minutes, calls were immediately made to the four coaching fuigures in the dugout to change things. That number has been challenged and questioned by fans - and was again on Saturday.

The Falkirk manager defends the need for assistance from Stevie Crawford, Neil Macfarlane and Alex Smith with the amount of coaching required for the young raw talent coming through the Academy to the top team, and the ones on show - Stephen Kingsley, Craig Sibbald, Conor McGrandles and Thomas Grant prove the ability is there.

They were the better performers over the past month. But recent performances suggest more coaches are needed to assist the more seasoned professionals who are struggling to reach the heights they did last year.

But to focus on them detracts from the only positive on show - that of young Thomas Grant’s combative 18 minutes.

He is set to follow Conor McGrandles into the first team, and he compelted the 90 minutes on the left side of midfield, capping off his rise with his first senior goal in the second half.

Steering in Grant’s corner after a Darren Dods flick-on from the backpost gave Bairns faint hope of taking soemthing from a freezing, miserable afternoon at Almondvale - but the poor show earlier in the day made the task too severe.

Falkirk were careless with their passing in the first half, and when O’Brien poked a pass through to Stefan Scougall, the diminutive midfielder laid on Marc McNulty whop tucked the ball in after shrugging off Darren Dods’ attention.

He did the same in the second half, to pick out Liam Fox and he in turn played into the path of the on-rushing Keaghan Jacobs who put Livi 2-0 up.

Michael McGovern made a series of important saves in the first half and another in the second, pushing out a McNulty shot and Neilson hacking clear.

It was Neuilson who flicked on for McGrandles to flick the ball into the net and set up a hopeful final six minutes, and though the Bairns had come close through a Neilson header, a Murdoch drive and Dods shot on the turn, Livingston kept the points for a second time this season.