better meddle...

wi' the de'il than the bairns o' fa'kirk

Match Report

Thursday, 20th November, 2008

by Julian Peck

A warm front

A GREY, drab and wet land.

Gerard Aafjes' assessment of his adopted homeland, given in an interview for a Dutch magazine, isn't too far from the truth.

The validity of the rest of the article, however, in which the 23-year-old defender supposedly criticised Falkirk for lacking a cutting edge, is highly questionable.

It was a case of "cheap journalism" according to manager John Hughes, who believed his upset player when he told him that the words, re-printed in a national newspaper on Saturday morning, had been taken out of context.

"It's quite amusing actually because a lot of what he says is true," said Hughes. "It's raining and blowing a gale all the time over here."

"But it's not Spain he stays in, it's Holland and every time I go there it's pouring!"

Aafjes, a former member of the Ajax academy, was stuck in the stand for this encounter with Motherwell, suffering from a thigh strain.

And, despite a cold and windy Westfield, for 11 glorious seconds he could be forgiven for thinking he was back home at the Amsterdam ArenA, or even Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu.

With 36 minutes on the clock, the Bairns produced a wonderful goal that was worthy of winning any match and proved they can also put a finishing touch on their attractive passing game.

Five players were involved in the flowing move which started with Jackie McNamara deep in his own half, and a total of just SIX touches saw the ball shipped forward fully 80 yards and ultimately into the back of the net.

Steve Lovell and Scott Arfield combined in midfield to send Graham Barrett racing down the right wing, from where he played a long and accurate cross to Michael Higdon.

And the striker turned Bob Malcolm by expertly chesting the ball down before slamming it into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

"You'll be hard pushed to get a better team goal than that one," said Hughes.

"Five men, one and two-touch on the counter attack, a good final ball from Barrett and an excellent finish by big Higdon."

Aafjes may well have faced the wrath of his manager when he had to explain himself before kick-off.

However, Hughes, the victim of a few "stitch-ups" himself in the past, turned what could have been potential trouble into a positive for the impending SPL fixture.

"We had a laugh about the article, pinned it up on the noticeboard and said if we won then it would be for him," said Hughes. "So that's dedicated to Gerard."

"We're all together here and it gave us the motivation – a wee spur to go on and do the business."

"We rode our luck a bit in the last 20 minutes and we have Scott Flinders to thank for a wonderful save at his bottom right corner, although we could have scored one or two more."

"There was a lot of frustration and disappointment at Inverness in midweek so we dug in and the fundamentals were good."

"Everyone was hard-working, got their tackles and headers in, won second balls and played some really good football."

"It was end-to-end at times so I'm delighted to have picked up the three points."

That maximum haul elevated Falkirk up to eighth in the SPL standings while extending an unbeaten run to six games.

Yet it could have been a different story had Motherwell defender Marc Fitzpatrick, with the goal at his mercy, not blasted wide of the target from six yards in the 26th minute.

Chances had already fallen for both sides, though. Higdon, Arfield, Lovell and Dean Holden all went close while Flinders redeemed himself on more than one occasion for his shaky performance against Inverness.

The on-loan keeper stopped two powerful drives from David Clarkson and Fitzpatrick either side of the interval, and brilliantly palmed away Chris Porter's shot when it looked destined for the bottom corner in the 80th minute.

However, by then, Barrett should have already finished the visitors off with a couple of excellent opportunities.

Firstly, Lovell played him straight through on goal but his powerful shot was blocked by Graeme Smith.

Then, when Burton O'Brien quickly returned the ball to the striker, his effort skimmed off the far post.

And Motherwell's diplomatic boss thought the final outcome was probably the right one.

"I don't think we deserved anything," said Mark McGhee. "Falkirk had a bit more about them – their movement was better than us so I can have no complaints."

"We created chances but you have to take them and we didn't."

"Regardless of that, even before Falkirk scored I thought they just about edged it."