Reacting properly becomes Hearts’ priority this week as they try to overcome the disappointment of losing their unbeaten league run.
Responding to a league defeat is new territory for Robbie Neilson and many of his players. On Saturday, their 20-game unbeaten stretch was ended by an enterprising and industrious Falkirk side at Tynecastle. The challenge now is to bounce back.
Captain Danny Wilson explained that the aim is not to wallow in dejection. Just as they have tried not to get over excited whilst building up their run week after week, they don’t intend to fall apart now it has ended. There will be a steely determination to atone at Alloa this weekend but no blind panic in the meantime.
Falkirk’s contribution to a thoroughly entertaining encounter was the standout theme from Tynecastle. They were energetic, aggressive, well organised and, eventually, clinical in the final third. They wasted several guilt-edged chances after Genero Zeefuik put Hearts ahead 90 seconds into his home debut. Peter Grant, Craig Sibbald, Rory Loy and Mark Kerr all tried and failed to score with good opportunities before John Baird’s penalty equaliser made for a 1-1 interval scoreline.
Loy cracked a stunning effort high into Neil Alexander’s net to put the visitors 2-1 up early in the second half. Hearts substitute James Keatings equalised before the outstanding Sibbald produced the winner. It was another exquisite finish low into the corner of the net in a game which showcased Scottish football at its finest.
Despite Hearts’ dejection, they appeared to recognise the fact they lost to a team playing exceedingly well right now. Falkirk have lost only once in their last ten matches and move into the Championship play-off places with the three points they took from Edinburgh.
“Had we lost our first game of the season then won all these games up until now, then I’d have taken that.
“The run we were on was always going to come to an end at some point,” said Wilson. “We move on and hopefully it might refocus us. A lot of people have said we’re favourites now and that’s a tag we’re going to have to deal with. Maybe this defeat will make sure we’re grounded and ready for the challenges ahead.
“Credit to Falkirk, they were excellent. Over the last eight weeks, there have been times when we haven’t been at our best and still got three points. We weren’t able to do that. I think Falkirk deserve credit for the victory. They were good value for what they got.
“We weren’t looking at any unbeaten record.
“We knew we had it but records are there to be broken and ours has come to an end. We hope to get three points next week and put this to bed. For some reason we weren’t ourselves and that can happen.
“The challenge was always going to be hard. None of the games we’ve played this season have been easy. We’ve come away with some good scorelines but it hasn’t been easy. I don’t know what it will do for the other teams but it might galvanise us and make us play better.
“I’m hoping we can go on a run again. This one has come to an end so we need to go and start a new one. We never get too high when we win, and we have been winning a lot of late. We won’t be too down in the dressing-room. We’ll go through Saturday’s game and see what we can do better.”
The Falkirk goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald was far busier in the second half than the first. He repelled Sam Nicholson’s header with an instinctive one-handed save and smothered an effort by Keatings. Hearts may also have earned a penalty when Osman Sow, making his comeback from injury, appeared to be bundled over by Grant. Referee Don Robertson was unmoved despite the loud appeals from home fans.
At full-time, MacDonald celebrated with his team-mates in front of the joyous Falkirk support. The day belonged to them.
“It was a great performance and that’s what we’ve been doing over the last eight or nine weeks. We’ve only lost one in ten now and it was a good team performance,” said the former Hearts goalkeeper.
“We want to do this for ourselves. We’re chasing that play-off spot and results went for us with Queen of the South losing to Hibs. We leapfrog them into fourth.
“Hearts had a target on their back and I suppose every team was trying to be the first to beat them. It’s a great thing for us to do it and hopefully we can take plenty confidence for the rest of the season.
“I think you can see there is a lot of character in the team now. We’ll never give up. The boys put a great shift in. We were great attacking and defensively we were superb. Everybody did their job and I thought it was a thoroughly deserved victory.”
MacDonald still believes Hearts are the team to beat in the chase for the league title, however.
“I don’t think this puts extra pressure on Hearts. They’ve been fantastic this year, you can’t take anything away from them.
“They’re a good team and we played really well to combat that. There are a lot of excellent young players at Hearts who are confident. I don’t think this is going to affect them. They will kick on again.
“I think they’ve got a very good chance to win the league. They’re so far ahead at the minute that it’s theirs to lose. It’s hard to see past them at this minute in time but football is a funny game sometimes.”