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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Gordon Waddell auth-> Steve Conroy
[N McCann 3] ;[S Arfield 89]
8 of 016 Michael Stewart 71 L SPL A

Falkirk 2-1 Hearts

Sep 14 2008 Gordon Waddell Reports

JOHN HUGHES finally brought his crocks out of the box - and watched Falkirk's pre-season promise spark into life. Neil McCann's first SPL goal in five-and-a-half years in the third minute and a sublime last-minute finish from Scott Arfield book-ended a game that Hearts looked certain to take a point from.

Michael Stewart's sweet 71stminute strike counted for nothing as the Bairns finally put three points on the board and hauled themselves off bottom of the SPL for the first time.

And debut man McCann beamed: "This should be a turning point. We've known all along we have a good squad but words are cheap, points matter. Now we need to build on this.

"It's been frustrating for me. I'd never missed a pre-season then injured myself three days before the season began.

"So to get a start this week and a goal? I was ecstatic.

"My last was for Southampton and I can't remember my last goal up here.

"But this one felt special. Not because it was my old team - I still have a love for Hearts - but because of what it means to us.

"I was delighted for Scotty as well. I've told him to believe in himself more and it was great to see him score."

Most form teams hate the international break and claim it is a momentum killer - for Hughes it was a life-saver.

He finally managed to get McCann and Burton O'Brien fit and in his line-up.

The return of Scotland Under-21 full-back Tam Scobbie from a groin operation and striker Michael Higdon instantly gave his team a better shape.

All it took was 150 seconds to prove it. Graham Barrett skinned Lee Wallace on the right, his deflected cross fell perfectly into McCann's path and despite still having work to do, his flashing finish across Marian Kello and in low at the post was quality.

McCann and O'Brien seemed to breathe life into the Bairns and their play from middle to front.

Jambos have some impact players of their own though and Laryea Kingston's snapshot from the edge of the box was smartly turned past by Robert Olejnik.

And in the 21st minute Adrian Mrowiec blew a dream chance to make the kind of debut impact that former Jambo McCann had turned on at the other end.

Falkirk's defence was all over the shop as Jamie Mole found the Pole in acres.

He squirted his shot over the keeper and although it was heading wide Jackie McNamara stepped in to shell it away from danger for good measure.

But Hearts gradually found the form that had seen them win three from four. When Csaba Laszlo shook things up six minutes after the break, piling Christian Nade and Audrius Ksanavicius in for Saulius Mikoliunas and Mole, they took total control.

George Burley, in the stand running the rule over his Stephen McManus stand-ins for the Norway game, certainly saw a lot more of Darren Barr than Christophe Berra as the Falkirk skipper defended like his life depended on it.

He had to - the ball retention of the Bairns in front of him was criminal. Nothing stuck, and it was only a matter of time before the Jambos levelled.

Kingston's free-kick was cleared by Barr but, with no blue shirts mopping up, Stewart ran on to the ball and drilled a belter low and hard past Olejnik.

Bairns dug deep though and sent the place wild in the 90th minute.

Sub Steve Lovell teed up Arfield on the edge of the box, and the midfielder - constantly told to find his shooting boots - sidefooted home from 18 yards.

Bairns still had one heart attack left in them though, as Berra's header cannoned up off the bar deep in injury time.

Hughes shrugged: "Hearts passed the ball better but we showed spirit. Injuries have killed us but a Bairn with a biscuit erse could see the quality McCann and O'Brien give us."


STEVE CONROY had a howler - as both sets of fans would agree. And he got pelters. Gave what he didn't have to, let go what he should have given - and wasn't helpedmuch by his assistants. Rating: 3/10.

Taken from the Sunday Mail

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