Bitter frustration as Hearts go down at the death
Hearts went down to Falkirk in a gritty but ugly match here in Falkirk this afternoon. The Tynecastle side had done everything to pull themselves back into the game, with Michael Stewart equalising Neil McCann's third minute opener - only to see the visitors improved second half performance thwarted at the death.
Scott Arfield netted the winner, finishing beautifully after Csaba Laszlo's side had given away possession. Hearts did not deserve to go down to defeat but that is what they got.
Hearts found themselves a goal down inside three minutes. In a cruel twist of fate the scorer was none other than Jambos hero Neil McCann whose recent second spell at the club was marred by injury. A zipping run from Graham Barrett took him past Lee Wallace and as he launched the ball into the box, McCann found himself unmarked and drove the ball low into Kello's left hand corner. There was jubilation for McCann in his first start for Falkirk but misery for the Jambos.
It could have been worse after seven minutes when a free kick from Graham Barrett dropped just over the Hearts bar after taking a deflection on the way in. Hearts looked stretched and needed to find some rhythm fast.
Hearts found themselves weathering a Falkirk storm in the opening 20 minutes but gradually began to find their bearing as the match progressed. The best chance came after the pole Adrian Mrowiec, who made his debut at the Falkirk Stadium. He linked up well with Jamie Mole in the penalty area. Neat play between the two carved open the shooting opportunity for Mrowiec who saw his shot saved but Olejnik in the Falkirk goal.
Both teams were pushing hard for the next goal and McCann's free role on the left continued to cause Hearts problems. Kello, however was there to extinguish any questions Falkirk asked of him and looked comfortable. Larry Kingston played virtually alongside Jamie Mole up front and as a partnership it caused the Falkirk defence problems at times.
Hearts started the second half the livelier of the two teams. Mrowiec got the better if McNamara on a few occasions in the opening half and did so again with a piercing run down the wing which left McNamara trailing behind. He pulled the ball back to the oncoming Stewart for what looked like a certain equaliser, only to be denied by the Falkirk backline who cleared. Hearts were creating the chances but there was a lack of cutting edge in front of goal and the Jambos needed more upfront.
Csaba clearly felt the same and made a double substitution inside the first five minutes of the second period. Mikoliunas and Mole who had both worked hard were replaced by Nade and Ksanavicius in a bid to get the goal that so far eluded the away team. The impact was visible instantly with Nade in particular getting involved in everything and showing spark upfront which Mole had been unable to provide. The closest Nade came was as a result of his own excellent control in the box when the ball had looked lost. The big striker then saw his hot saved by the Falkirk keeper but it was clear that Nade was up for it.
The game exploded into a frenetic pace for a good 15 minutes and Hearts should have scored on more than one occasion. Kingston, who was now out on right, was in great form and continued to create chance after chance and gave Scobbie a torrid time.
Finally, Hearts got their reward. After a foul on Stewart Hearts won a free kick just to the right of the centre circle. The free kick was launched into the penalty area and headed clear by the Falkirk defence, however only as far as Michael Stewart who stood right at the edge of the box and hit a sweet shot low past Olejnik.
Stewart raced to the away end and every single Hearts player joined him. That equaliser was made by everyone on the pitch and where the heads would have gone down, this new Hearts focused and determined to get the goal that they had more than earned.
The goal sparked a reaction from John Hughes side also and Falkirk again started to come at Hearts. Although Hearts continued to pile the pressure on the Bairns to no avail, the threat that they posed still loomed large. As the clock wound down Falkirk looked more and more dangerous.
Then...disaster struck. Higdon, who had looked dangerous all day, linked up well with Scott Arfield on the edge of the area and the rest as they say is History. Arfield thundered the ball low into Kello's goal in the 89th minute. Falkirk celebrated as if their lives depended on it. The Jambos were gutted.
There were a couple of minutes left to try for another equaliser and while Hearts came close with a Chistophe Berra header that rattled off the bar, it just wasn't their day. It should have been, though.
Falkirk: Olejnik; McNamara, Barr, Bullen, Scobbie; Arfield, McBride, O'Brien (Cregg 82), McCann (Lovell 64); Higdon, Barrett (Stewart 84). Subs not used: Flinders, Latapy, Aafjes, McCaffrey.
Hearts: Kello; Jonsson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Mrowiec, Karipidis (Palazuelos 88), Stewart, Mikoliunas (Ksanavicius 51); Kingston, Mole (Nade 51). Subs not used: Makela, Thomson, MacDonald, Rapnik.
Referee: Steve Conroy
Top man: Michael Stewart