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8 of 015 ----- L SPL H

Hearts 0-0 Falkirk

Mar 24 2008 Colin Duncan

THE fact neither keeper had a noteworthy save to make during the 90 minutes told half of the story.

The boos which reverberated around Tynecastle at the final whistle told the rest of the tale.

Aseason that never really started for Hearts was as good as over following a dour goalless draw against a determined and dogged Falkirk outfit.

This instantly forgettable affair almost certainly puts paid to Hearts' top-six aspirations and relegates them to the second tier of the SPL for the first time since the split was introduced seven years ago.

However, the result has certainly increased the chances of John Hughes' side making the cut for the first time.

And given the lack of resources at Falkirk that would rank as one of the best achievements of the entire campaign.

Hughes has worked a minor miracle with his players this term and if anybody deserved to take three points from the contest it was the visitors.

Falkirk have received plenty of praise this season for an attacking blend of attractive football that is fast disappearing north of the border.

But their weekend display was an untypical blend of grit, determination and top-quality defending, particularly from skipper Darren Barr.

Without the width and guile of injured wingers Neil McCann and Andrew Driver, Hearts were simply unable to break down the Bairns rearguard.

In fact, they didn't even come close as Falkirk kept them at bay with the minimum of fuss as Barr and Co constructed an impenetrable barrier across the final third of the pitch.

They were first to every loose ball, won 99 per cent of tackles and never lost a challenge in the air all afternoon.

Indeed, if the contest had been decided on spirit, desire and hunger alone referee Charlie Richmond, who impressed in the middle, would have stopped proceedings at half-time.

Hearts lacked all the battling qualities Falkirk possessed, although to be honest they have been as anonymous as club owner Vladimir Romanov has for much of the season.

Yet again the Lithuanian businessman was nowhere to be seen as angry punters directed their venom towards the directors box at the final whistle.

They also turned on Calum Elliot during the match as the striker hopelessly tried to plough a lone furrow in attack. Deprived of any decent service the youngster understandably toiled and it was probably a relief when Stevie Frail removed him from the firing line after 68 minutes.

Elliot had Hearts'only real chance of the game when he capitalised on a rare Kenny Milne error in the 10th minute but with too much time to think about things he dithered, allowing Barr to make an excellent last-ditch block.

Tam Scobbie had a couple of half chances to break the deadlock before the interval, although he failed to seriously trouble Steve Banks in the Hearts goal.

The best opportunity of the match fell to Gerard Aafjes five minutes from the end but the Dutch defender failed to get enough purchase on his header that flashed wide of the target.

Victory would have virtually guaranteed Falkirk post-split spot at the top table, although given their superior goal difference, a home win over Kilmarnock next week will almost seal it.

Midfielder Patrick Cregg feels a place among the SPL elite would be just reward for all the hard work on and off the pitch this season.

He said: "The gaffer got his tactics spot on, although it's just unfortunate we didn't get all three points.

"But Hearts are still a good side regardless of what anybody says and that's another step closer to the top six on a shoestring budget.

"If we do make it then it would be a massive achievement for such a small club. Hopefully, if we get top six the gaffer will get more money next season and we can build on it.

"We're trying to mix hard work and good football. We try to play a passing game because the gaffer likes one and two-touch players but we can also dig out results as well."

Cregg believes the punishing fitness regimes at their Stirling University base have helped Falkirk punch way above their weight this term, although he insists he still has more to offer.

The fiery little Irishman said: "I've been up and down this season although on my day I consider myself to be as good as any midfielder in the league.

"I think I can match anyone but some weeks my workrate hasn't been there and that's not acceptable.

"I've been a bit of a slacker recently, not intentionally because I always think if you are fitter than your opponent you can get the better of him.

"We train incredibly hard. I don't think any team in the league works harder and we get pumped in training most days. The fitness levels are incredible."

The former Arsenal midfielder is out of contract in the summer, although he is hopeful of thrashing out his future before the end of the season.

He added:"I want to stay at Falkirk and hopefully I will sign. We are close to what I'm looking for and the gaffer has been great to me.

"I don't think he gets the credit he deserves. The club isn't run on a big budget but all the lads are determined to be good players.

"We may not be at the moment but we will be one day."

MAN OF THE MATCH Darren Barr (Falkirk)

MAGIC MOMENT The shrill of referee Charlie Richmond's final whistle.

Taken from the Daily Record

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