JUST how do you offer condolences to a fellow whose team have just delivered a stunning performance, have scored four goals for the second week in a row and who now sit proud and unbeaten at the top of their league?
The questions hovered in the background when James Keatings strolled into the press room at Tynecastle on Saturday afternoon. The striker, who scored a hat trick in last week's 4-0 victory over Raith Rovers, had done little wrong in Hearts' sometimes mesmerising attacking display, and his pace and clever movement brought all manner of grief to the Falkirk defence. But when it came to enjoying a bit of luck in front of goal, absolutely nothing fell his way.
That facet of the game added a slightly doleful tone to Keatings' voice as he spoke about the game. Of course, he might also have been thinking of the post-match reflections of head coach Robbie Neilson, who struck a rather less exuberant note than the Hearts fans had as they headed off to the howffs of Gorgie for their gleeful libations. Neilson was happy enough with the lacerating football his players had delivered in the first half, but rather less enthused by their flatter performance in the second.
But there are only so many clouds to be cast across an afternoon when the capital basked in warm sunshine and a crowd just a few souls short of 17,000 packed into Tynecastle. They were rewarded with a game illuminated by the self-confident swagger of Hearts, five goals and an edge of eager competitiveness only hinted at by six bookings and a red card.
It was a game of rich entertainment, then, although Keatings later admitted he would have preferred not to have been among the spectators when the goals were flowing. His worst moment was in the 24th minute, when he hit a penalty too close to former Hearts favourite Jamie MacDonald, and then rattled the rebound attempt off the goalkeeper as well. His blushes were spared when team-mate Billy King calmly stroked in the second rebound.
"It was just one of those days," Keatings said with a shrug. "I think I had five shots and obviously missed the penalty and a follow-up as well. I'm delighted that the team won, although obviously disappointed with myself for not scoring. But it was one of those days when I could have had 10 shots and not one of them would have gone in."
In fairness, the excellence of MacDonald throughout the game ensured that Falkirk did not suffer a complete humiliation. The Hearts fans had given the goalkeeper a warm reception at the start, and his display was a reminder of why they thought so highly of him in the first place.
"I spoke to him when I walked off, shook his hand and told him he had done well," said Keatings. "Obviously, I'm disappointed in myself for not finishing, but he had a really good game against me. On another day they would have gone in."
Life has its consolations, though, and they are stacking up rather nicely for Hearts, whose fourth win in four league games kept them three points clear of Rangers at the top of the SPFL Championship table. "When you are enjoying football it is the best thing because you jump out of bed in the morning and you want to go to it. There is a good mood in the camp," said Keatings.
Hearts' four-pronged attack of Keatings, Osman Sow, Billy King and Sam Nicholson drew most of the gasps from the stands, but they were supported impressively by Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben in the heart of the midfield. At least they were until Buaben offered a passable imitation of a threshing machine with his challenge on Olumide Durojayie and was shown a red card.
King finished with two goals to his name. Right-back Jordan McGhee had opened Hearts' scoring and Sow finished things off with their second penalty. Botte Bia-Bi collected Falkirk's consolation goal with five minutes remaining.