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Csaba Laszlo <-auth auth-> Calum Murray
6 of 006 Michael Stewart pen 42L SPL A

Falkirk 0 - 1 Hearts: New-found discipline starting to pay dividends for Csaba Laszlo's men

Published Date: 28 December 2009
ALTHOUGH it may not have felt like it at the time, the darkest afternoon in Hearts' season so far could prove to be the turning point for the Tynecastle side. Their meltdown at Hamilton earlier this month has been followed by a trio of results which, while not necessarily signalling a challenge for a European spot, at least dims the prospect of last season's third place being succeeded by an unseemly battle to avoid relegation.
They won't win any prizes for elegance, but Hearts have stopped the rot to the extent where they now sit fifth in the league. Just a few short weeks ago, as the red cards continued to mount, they risked dropping to bottom.

It is not all sweetness and light at the club. Following Saturday's 1-0 victory at Falkirk, both Marius Zaliukas and manager Csaba Laszlo side-stepped questions concerning a report that those Hearts players fined for their involvement in the tunnel battle at Hamilton had contacted the players' union for guidance. But no matter the dearth of quality in the Tynecastle ranks, there is at least evidence of a new-found spirit. Judging from Saturday, when Hearts collected just one booking, it is not the sort likely to turn noxious, either.

Laszlo later praised his side for not "provoking" any red or yellow cards, although the incident which saw Marian Kello booked in the second-half had clearly escaped his memory. The goalkeeper lingered too long once too often as he prepared to take a bye-kick, and was yellow carded by Calum Murray. But there was certainly little evidence of the wanton ill-discipline that has recently bedeviled Hearts. Having been able to draw on the efforts of all 11 players from beginning to end, Hearts gave themselves the opportunity to profit from this visit to the wintry Falkirk Stadium.

Industry was the watch-word, with locals having already done their bit to ensure that the game went ahead. Many had partaken in clearing duties as snow and ice combined to place the game in jeopardy. Similarly, every Hearts player was required to put their shoulder to the wheel as Falkirk attempted to overturn Michael Stewart's 42nd-minute goal.

Laszlo later praised his side for their professionalism, and the way each player concentrated on his own duties was indeed commendable. Stewart was a case in point. He despatched his winning penalty with nerveless guile and the minimum of fuss. The captain and his team-mates then got on with the job of preserving this lead. In the end, this was an easier job than they might have imagined as Falkirk once again enjoyed plenty of possession but could deliver no final product. They might often flatter to deceive, but their manager – unfortunately for the players – is not among those taken in. And neither, granted, are the Falkirk fans fooled by long stretches of often aimless possession. Their seething at least kept them warm as the minutes ticked away, and the reality of another unproductive afternoon at home set in.

"We were terrible all day," hurrumphed Eddie May afterwards. He could see no redeeming features in his side's performance, something made more galling by the memory of the fine 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock just seven days earlier. This, by contrast, was the first time Hearts have won two league games in succession this season, and Saturday's success was every bit as valuable as last Sunday's 2-1 victory over Celtic. Indeed, the reward for this win was a perhaps sweeter one.

Due to Motherwell's home loss to St Johnstone the Tynecastle side finished the day in fifth place. They can hold onto this surprisingly lofty position with a win at home against the Fir Park side on Wednesday. The prospect of additions to the squad in the transfer window will also hearten the Tynecastle fans. Izale McLeod is expected to arrive in Edinburgh today to begin a two-day trial, with a view to securing a loan deal from Charlton until the end of the season. Despite the recent upturn in results, Hearts still need a marksman. Jamie Mole did not convince in the role on Saturday, and it was not until Suso Santana's arrival midway through the second-half that Hearts placed Falkirk under any notable pressure.

One of their few forays forward led to the winning goal, with Jose Goncalves brought down in the box by Darren Barr. For most, it was startling simply to see the centre-half in such an advanced position. But May expressed further surprise at how easily Goncalves fell to the turf. He pointed to an episode in the first half when Zaliukas had barged Carl Finnigan not only off the ball, but also off the pitch. Indeed, the striker got a mouthful of ice for his troubles as he landed in a heap on the sidelines, where mounds of snow had been deposited. May made the point that the burly Hearts defenders are different animals in the other box. "Goncalves gets tickled and goes down. But that's the way they play and you have to accept it and get on with it," he said.

Stewart did not stand on ceremony, whipping the ball low and hard to Robert Olejnik's right. The Hearts captain and his side are showing some signs of recovery at a crucial stage of the season.

Taken from the Scotsman

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