Football: Hearts' joy is tinged with regret

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The Independent Online
Heart of Midlothian 3 Falkirk 1

THEY say that you always hurt the ones you love. So, David Weir and Jim Jefferies must have been nursing heavy hearts yesterday morning.

Despite plenty of pre-match vows to the contrary, Hearts' captain and their manager must have been slightly detached from the raucous celebrations at Ibrox which greeted their reaching the Scottish Cup Final.

Jefferies, the man whose six years in charge of Falkirk moulded them into a club which competed with, and defeated, the elite of Scottish football. Weir, the player who cut his teeth with his hometown team before Jefferies took him to Tynecastle.

Given Falkirk's perilous financial position - they are in the hands of a provisional liquidator because of pounds 1.5m of debts - very few outside Edinburgh wanted to see them denied a return to the cup final they graced just 12 months ago and a chance to stave off bankruptcy.

Yet, that romance was killed in the cruellest fashion of all. Kevin McAllister's wonderful 85th-minute lob over giant keeper Gilles Rousset was due reward for a match which the First Division side had dominated, despite trailing to Stephane Adam's early goal for Hearts. But then, with thoughts turning to a replay - which is how Falkirk defeated Celtic last season - the illusion was shattered when Neil McCann and Adam fashioned the French striker's second goal in the last minute, with McCann then adding a final insult in injury time.

It was the kind of heartache that Hearts themselves have almost copyrighted. This was the team which lost the league title in the final seven minutes of the season in 1986. Five times between defeat in the cup final that same year and losing another one in 1996, they lost semi-finals.

Jefferies admitted: "If there was any other way of Falkirk getting what they need, I would love to give it to them. I want to see them survive but I also want to see our fans have a trophy after all these years."

Indeed, Weir believes that 36 barren years could be satisfied with not one but two pieces of silver, if they could add the Premier Division title to the cup, the final of which they will contest on 16 May.

"We must put the cup final out of our mind now," implored the Scotland defender. "We really have seven cup finals left because the last six league games are so big now. People might have thought we would have cracked when Falkirk equalised, but this team is built to score goals."

Just a few yards away in the Ibrox press room, Weir's former Falkirk team-mate McAllister was choked with emotion, cradling a man of the match award that meant little to him.

"We played one of the Premier title contenders off the pitch," declared the former Chelsea winger. "I think that, and the great support we had here, shows that we are a club worth saving.

"We can hold our own with top teams. Falkirk don't deserve to die. I have friends who stood with me on the terraces as a kid and who still go and people in the town care about the club. Hopefully, we will survive."

Goals: Adam (5) 1-0; McAllister (85) 1-1; Adam (89) 2-1; McCann (90) 3-1.

Heart of Midlothian: Rousset; Murray, Naysmith, Weir, Salvatori, Ritchie, McCann, Flogel (Makel, 66), Adam, Cameron (Quitongo, 66), Hamilton. Substitute not used: McPherson.

Falkirk: Mathers; Corrigan, Seaton, McGowan, Berry, McKenzie, McAllister, Craig (Hagen, 78), Crabbe, Moss, Keith (McGrillen, 66). Substitute not used: McCart.

Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).

Bookings: Hearts: Cameron, Flogel. Falkirk: McKenzie, McGowan, Crabbe, Moss.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 31,587.