BEFORE this match, some had been considering the odds of a Falkirk win pretty appealing.
The bookies don’t get rich by dealing in plucking their numbers out of the air though and while matches between these teams had been tight the previous season, more astute gamblers remembered the poor away form which had afflicted John Hughes this particular season, married to Hearts’ run of five wins out of six going into this encounter.
Falkirk held the worst defensive record away from home heading into this match and it was easy to see why, even in the opening moments. Poor goalkeeper Tim Krul was faced with an onslaught from the outset, with three menacing forays by Hearts in as many minutes.
With a more energetic midfield, the hosts were able to apply real pressure on the visiting rearguard, pouring forward with greater haste and desire than their opposite numbers who struggled to track them.
It was a problem they failed to rectify after those early warnings and when the first goal came in the fifth minute it was already a formality. From the middle of the park, Eggert Jonsson played a pass for Larry Kingston to run on to down the right flank and the Ghanaian playmaker cut the ball back for an in-rushing Andrius Ksanavicius to side-foot his first goal for the club.
The Lithuanian contingent in the Hearts side were to prove clinical as the match progressed and the afternoon was to spiral into embarrassment for a Falkirk side who were ultimately flattered by two late goals which made the final scoreline more respectable than their performance merited.
By the time they arrived though, Hearts had amassed a further three goals. Falkirk had tried to maintain some possession, but with little cutting edge and a penchant for finally slipping up, the home side were willing to simply bide their time. Their patience was rewarded in the 27th minute. Falkirk defender Darren Barr’s insipid headed clearance was met at the edge of the box by the grateful Marius Zaliukas who slammed it beyond Krul.
Two goals up, Hearts eased back slightly, but had the benefit of being able to hit Falkirk decisively whenever the fancy took them. Russell Latapy was left to rue his profligacy in the 58th minute when he was robbed by Jonsson, who played a long ball for Andrius Velicka to take on the edge of the box and drill home.
Christian Nade was given a rousing reception when he entered the fray in the 65th minute. He didn’t take long to justify the welcome – a one-two with Kingston ended with him right-footing the ball into the net for goal number four.
Whether an act of pity by the assistant referee or an error of judgment by the Hearts rearguard, the home defence seemed to stop when Falkirk bore down on goal in the 87th minute and were still arguing offside as Graham Barrett wheeled away having pegged one back. There were similar, less vociferous appeals three minutes later, when Dean Holden cut back a ball for Pedro Moutinho to finish.