The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Clare is spot on as Hearts go through

- By Fraser Mackie

THE weather forecaster­s appear to have called it correct this weekend but who can predict the outlook for Hearts under Daniel Stendel?

They slickly scored five in the previous round of this competitio­n, then beat Rangers.

Two chaotic contests followed, six goals were conceded and fears of a false dawn stalked Stendel into what shaped up like an away tie ripe for a Scottish Cup shock.

The latest unfathomab­le watch in the German’s reign saw Hearts pinch a place in the last eight with a clean sheet as Falkirk struck the frame of the goal three times in six minutes.

As Storm Ciara dumped a deluge of rain on Falkirk Stadium, the top-flight team and their embattled, nerve-stricken goalkeeper Joel Pereira somehow survived.

Sean Clare’s expertly-taken 50th-minute penalty-kick made the difference after Liam Boyce was fouled in the box.

In wretched conditions, an ugly win was the apt way for the visitors to progress.

Hearts had demolished Falkirk’s promotion rivals Airdrieoni­ans 5-0 in the fourth round but that was no signpost to a similar occasion.

Second in League One and chasing down Raith Rovers for top spot, Falkirk proved a far more awkward rival.

Knockout tournament runs had papered over plenty cracks in Hearts last season.

Craig Levein’s group were stopped by Celtic at the Betfred Cup semi-final stage then overcame injury problems and took full advantage of kind draws to reach the William Hill Scottish Cup final last May.

They only went down to an Odsonne Edouard goal eight minutes from time at Hampden but there has been no covering up the flaws this season.

What has remained a constant in a tumultuous campaign of change is the injury jinx and John Souttar’s absence with an ankle problem was the latest to beset new boss Stendel.

Clevid Dikamona’s deputising job for the young Scotland internatio­nal was one of four changes in Hearts from the 3-2 midweek loss to Kilmarnock.

Perhaps the biggest shock was Pereira keeping his place in goal following his contributi­on to that downfall.

The swirling wind and rain were no kind of assistance for a goalkeeper toiling for confidence.

However, as Hearts bossed possession in a poor first half they successful­ly kept the ball away from the on-loan Manchester United man and Declan McManus, with a wayward first shot of the game on the half hour, also obliged.

While Pereira’s colleagues in the first team at his parent club were enjoying a warm-weather training break, the worst storm to hit the UK in years was in its early throes here.

A punt up the park by home goalkeeper Robbie Mutch had the wind at its back, causing consternat­ion for Dikamona, whose misjudgmen­t allowed the ball to bounce into the path of Falkirk midfielder Josh Todd. A combinatio­n of Dikamona’s quick recovery and a Michael Smith slide did just about enough to pressurise Todd into firing the ball into the side netting.

It was a scarce sight of goal in the opening 45 that Falkirk would rue not making more of.

Mutch gained the benefit of the doubt from referee John Beaton for his collision with Clare as Hearts pleaded penalty for a third time in the first half.

A spot-kick seemed the only realistic route to goal for the visitors as Falkirk had cut off the supply lanes to Northern Irish strike duo Boyce and Conor Washington.

So what fortune, then, that a penalty award followed the recovery of one of Pereira’s fumbles and led to the priceless winner for Hearts soon after the interval.

The keeper collected at the second attempt and his booming kick released Boyce.

Michael Doyle’s attempts to shackle his progress dragged down the ex-Ross County man and Beaton was in no doubt this time.

Clare’s staggered run-up and crisply-hit connection made for a deadly conversion.

With the deadlock broken, Lee Miller and David McCracken’s Falkirk side were stung into a response in what was an explosive start to the second half and totally at odds with the entertainm­ent before the break.

Three times the home side were denied by the woodwork in a flurry of equalising opportunit­ies.

The bustling presence of McManus was a handful for the Hearts defenders.

He hit Pereira’s right-hand post twice in a minute, first on the spin in a six-yard box scramble, then after dragging Dikamona wide and arrowing a drive in from the right that had the beating of the Portuguese.

Gary Miller’s crack, from 25 yards, cannoned off the crossbar and Hearts breathed again, then regained control.

Big hitters Steven Naismith, Clare and Washington were all withdrawn by Stendel and substitute Euan Henderson should have secured the safe passage into the quarter-finals with 10 minutes to spare.

Boyce presented the chance but from eight yards out, the 19-year-old leant back and lofted the ball over.

Falkirk were by some distance the best side after the break and Hearts rode their luck to avoid a replay.

If this is Stendel’s squad growing accustomed to prevailing in a scrap then it bodes well for them.

 ??  ?? WINNER: Sean Clare converts the penalty that sunk Falkirk
WINNER: Sean Clare converts the penalty that sunk Falkirk

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