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Hamilton Academical 3 Falkirk 1: Wheels all but come off Falkirk's challenge

THE spectre of Paul Hartley's Dundee loomed large over this fixture.

While a match between second and third could not be billed as a title decider, this was very much instead a title eliminator. And it was Falkirk who stuttered and fell by the wayside, beaten 3-1, with only a handful of games to make up what could become an eight-point deficit if Dundee overcome struggling Raith Rovers at home tomorrow.

Hamilton, though, are very much still in the fight. "I wouldn't say it's a two-horse race," said Alex Neil, their player-manager, "but it makes it more difficult [for Falkirk], there's no question about that. We've got to win these big games, that's what it boils down to. It's huge. If we had lost today we would have lost ground."

His side were dominant throughout against a makeshift and inexperienced visiting line-up, with only a brief wobble in the second half when the lanky figure of Mark Beck leapt to nod home a deep cross. He was shown the yellow card for darting into the crowd, celebrating wildly as the travelling support cooed. Their pleasure was to be short-lived, though; two minutes later the home side were back in front.

It was a corner, poorly defended and swung deep into the far-post region. The ball clattered through a couple of bodies but Darian MacKinnon wanted it more than the defence and stabbed home from close range.

But Hamilton should not have left themselves in that situation after squandering a pack of first-half chances. Jason Scotland was most culpable, although he also managed to open the scoring in the first five minutes, bundling home after Martin Canning had risen to meet a corner.

After that, though, he was wasteful, first smacking a terrible effort over the bar after neat work from Louis Longridge on the byeline. Worse was to come. A brilliant Ali Crawford through ball hoodwinked Will Vaulks, and while James Keatings' cross could have been cleaner, Scotland could only manage the sort of clunky touch that would shame a pregnant rhinoceros. The ball bounced off him and painfully wide.

You might have expected a little more from Falkirk in the last 10 minutes as they battled to save their status as title contenders. But then, perhaps not, with their substitutions consisting of two lost-looking 17-year-olds and a comparatively venerable 19-year-old. It really was no surprise, then, that Hamilton continued to dominate, eventually breaking upfield where Keatings thumped a well-saved shot only for Longridge to nod home the rebound.

"It doesn't matter how well you play," sighed Gary Holt, the Falkirk manager. "If you can't defend two corners that an under-10 side would defend then that's always going to cost you. We are down to our bare bones. We had boys out there today that shouldn't have been playing. But that's the nature of the beast."

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