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Dundee 0 Falkirk 1: Keeping the favourites quiet, on and off the pitch

Officially a visitor but very much a familiar face around these parts, David McCracken could smell the blood of old foes as he pondered the consequences of the latest damaging blow he and his team-mates had inflicted on the SPFL Championship favourites at Dens park on Saturday.

Falkirk's Craig Sibbald jumps with Declan Gallagher. Picture: SNS
Falkirk's Craig Sibbald jumps with Declan Gallagher. Picture: SNS

The former long-time Dundee United defender is one of the few experienced figures in a Falkirk squad who have done Dundee's title bid no end of harm, unbeaten against the Dens Park side as they are this season. And, for all that they are still six points off the pace with five matches to go, this latest success also revived their own title bid.

"Until we're told it's impossible to go straight up, we'll keep plugging away," said McCracken. "There's still going to be loads of twists and changes before the end of the season.

"All season it's been changing at the top constantly and I don't think anybody's taken a tight grip of it and said 'we're going to go straight up,' and that's what we knew. We needed this massive result to keep us in touch and obviously the Hamilton result helped us. Hamilton and Dundee play next week so that's a big one for us as well and we'll be hoping for a draw there."

He expressed some pride in how his callow colleagues coped with what confronted them as they absorbed a fair bit of pressure and claimed the win thanks to Mark Beck's headed goal from a first-half corner.

"I think we stood up to the challenge today. We know how hard it is to come here. They're a hard, robust side and it wasn't a day for playing it about and having a lot of possession. I thought we adapted well and dealt with their threats," McCracken said noting, too, that the outcome might have been even better had Mark Millar not drawn a fine penalty save from Kyle Letheren after the break.

Almost certainly influenced by the news that Hamilton's late goal had been cancelled out by an even later Cowdenbeath equaliser, the post-match mood had initially seemed upbeat all round. Falkirk claimed the points, whereas Paul Hartley, the Dundee manager, felt his men had done enough to take something from the match.

"I didn't think there was a lot wrong today with the way we went about our business," he said. "I thought we dominated the game. We had good chances, especially in the first half and then we switched off and they got a goal from the set-piece, but in terms of the attitude I was pleased."

All of which was fair enough, but the discovery thereafter that he had told his players they could not speak to the media struck a slightly different tone after his side had been removed from first place on goals scored. As tension mounts, Hartley's key task has to be keeping confidence high ahead of the vital run-in and especially next week's potential title decider at Hamilton.

His main consideration, then, was doubtless to protect them from the risk of exposure to the sort of awkward questions that might encourage them to offer an alternative analysis.

In particular, Craig Beattie probably would not have enjoyed engaging in too much discussion about his failure to level things with any one of three clear-cut chances in the quarter of an hour or so after Beck's decisive contribution.

Admittedly the striker deserved credit for the power shown to turn and break between a couple of opponents in setting up the first chance for himself. Just as was the case when, after a fine run down the right, Martin Boyle found him in space inside the box on the left a few minutes later. Beattie should have done better than shoot directly at Michael McGovern.

Most particularly, though, the striker would not want to be reminded about the opportunity from six yards out that subsequently saw him knock the ball against the outside of the Falkirk goalkeeper's left upright.

Given the pessimism expressed by locals about the difficulties Dundee have had in coming back when they go behind this season, there also has to be some cause for concern about the fact that they did not, after the break, look anything like as threatening as they had before it.

There was a bit of a flurry following Letheren's penalty save which was the one thing that really got the home crowd exercised in the whole of the afternoon, but Falkirk coped pretty well with that and did an effective job of breaking the game up throughout the second period.

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