Falkirk 1, Hearts 2. SPL, Saturday, March 25, 2006
Hearts maintained their grip on second place in the SPL in their first game of the post-Graham Rix era, as Lithuanian striker Edgaras Jankauskas grabbed a late winner. The victory helped to keep a six-point cushion between themselves and Rangers in the battle for second spot and qualification for the Champions League.
Valdas Ivanauskas, just three days into his post as interim manager on the back of Rix’s sacking, made one change from the side which drew 1-1 with Rangers at Tynecastle, with defender Andy Webster dropping out for Jose Goncalves.
The Lithuanian’s first-team selection was always going to be regarded as a Vladimir Romanov team no matter what combination of players he came up with and, in fairness, there was no other way to interpret the complete omission of Webster from the line-up. The centre-back, who had refused to sign a new deal at Tynecastle, failed even to make the bench, the official reason for his absence being that he’d gone down with an illness. Perhaps he had, but you could hardly blame the Hearts fans for being cynical.
Webster’s replacement, Goncalves, however, put in a tremendous performance. The Portuguese centre-back was assured in everything he did, unlike some of his under-performing team-mates further up the park. Falkirk were aggressive and dogged. They created precious little, but they had a rough edge about them that Hearts found difficult to handle. At times, they over-stepped the mark. Liam Craig, the midfielder, was psyched to his eyeballs at various points early in the second half and he was lucky not to be sent off. He had to be led away from one collision scene by a team-mate and he got involved in another like a man spoiling for a scrap.
The home team were second best for most of the first half, almost falling behind as early as the fifth minute when Rudi Skacel saw his shot pushed away by Mark Howard before they lost a goal in the 22nd minute. Skacel was heavily involved, scampering down the left and squaring for Paul Hartley to bundle it home.
Falkirk then needed Tiago to throw himself in front of a Jankauskas shot inside the box in order to stay in the game. But Hearts suffered a setback in injury time at the end of the first half when striker Roman Bednar blocked an Alan Gow free-kick with his hand.
Referee Alan Freeland pointed to the spot, Gow stepped up, had his kick saved by Craig Gordon, but then followed up to score on the rebound.
Hearts replaced Skacel with Calum Elliot midway through the second half and it was the youngster who provided the purpose and the accuracy that clinched the game.
Nine minutes from the end he cruised up the right-hand side of the pitch before picking out Jankauskas with a precise pass. The big striker’s first touch was a little on the heavy side, but he got to the ball before the advancing Howard and put it away.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Fyssas, Pressley, Hartley, Goncalves, Cesnauskis, Brellier, Jankauskas, Bednar, Skacel.