Alex Rae on Falkirk: Silky Sibbald, play-offs & future under Housty

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I started my career at Falkirk, lining up alongside a certain Peter Houston at the old Brockville Stadium. It’s a club that holds a lot of fond memories for me, but right now it’s all about looking forward as far as the Bairns are concerned – with another good shot at promotion this season.

Here’s my take on all things Falkirk, from ‘Housty’’s tactical success to promotion hopes and why I’ve been especially impressed by a certain young midfielder…

They have the nous to secure second spot

One of the good things about Falkirk is that they’ve shown a consistency over the past couple of years – and have the experience of pipping Hibernian to second spot last season.

I think finishing second is a really important factor, because otherwise, even if you get through and face the Premiership side, the fatigue which comes with playing those extra games makes it really tough for you.

However, even if this isn’t the season Falkirk go up, I definitely think they will win promotion within the next few years. The infrastructure at the club is excellent, and that’s obviously conducive to continued progress in the longer term.

Aiming high: Bairns looking to end six-year wait for top-flight football at Falkirk Stadium

Aiming high: Bairns looking to end six-year wait for top-flight football at Falkirk Stadium

 

4-4-2 has delivered results and entertainment

They’ve found a really good, settled system in the 4-4-2 which Peter Houston has implemented, and it’s worked especially well in an attacking sense. It’s no surprise to me that Falkirk are top scorers in the Championship this season, because they’ve been impressive coming forward for a few years now.

The Bairns scored more than any club – aside from Rangers – last season, and with that paying dividends, I’d be surprised if we saw Peter change their approach at all, even if they do win promotion this year.

This is a style and a set-up which they’re familiar with. And while I don’t think anyone at Falkirk will be getting ahead of themselves just yet, I do think they’d look to retain that style if they’re in the Premiership next term.

I think the bigger job for Peter and his staff is building a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’. There needs to be a contingency for both life in the Championship and life in the top-tier in 2017-18, but that’s not just an issue for Falkirk. Dundee United and Greenock Morton will both be doing the same.

That's Entertainment: Baird has been one of many players to shine in attacking Bairns' side

That’s Entertainment: Baird has been one of many players to shine in attacking Bairns’ side

 

Striker tallies haven’t surprised me, but Sibbald has…

You’d expect strikers with the quality of Lee Miller and little John Baird to get into double figures this season – which they have done – but among the goalscoring charts, the one that stands out for me is young Craig Sibbald.

He’s been so creative in the middle of the park, and also out on the left – and produced a lot of chances for the guys up front. But to do that and also reach 10 goals in the Championship this season is an exceptional feat.

His progress throughout the campaign has been so encouraging, and not only that – it’s also a real positive to see Falkirk blooding their own young players. Craig’s come through the youth teams, and already played 123 games for the first-team, despite being just 21-years-old.

Bairns can end Morton hoodoo in play-offs

I think your record against a side more or less goes out the window in the play-offs. It’s all about who has momentum at that point. I remember being at Millwall in 1999. We had a great record against Brighton & Hove Albion in the league, and then they hammered us 6-2 in the play-offs!

Morton have had a good record against Falkirk in recent times – winning two and drawing three of the last five meetings. But I’d back the Bairns if they meet each other in the play-offs this time around.

The thing they have – as I touched on above – is consistency. In contrast to Morton, they had a very impressive three months or so earlier in the season, Falkirk have maintained a good level of performance and results throughout.

And with the Cappielow club having struggled to muster any form right now, I know who I’ll be tipping to win if they face off in the play-offs.

Future’s bright with Housty at the helm

Peter’s a guy I know very well, having played with him at Falkirk and faced off against him when I was manager at St Mirren. He’s obviously got quite a lot of experience now, which stands him in good stead – but I think the biggest positive is what he’s built there for the long-term.

He’s always been popular with the fans. When I was coming through, he had his own segment of the crowd at the old Brockville Park called the ‘Housty Hardcore’. They knew him as ‘the Ginger god’, and he’s every bit as popular as manager!

Peter has done brilliantly with the budget he’s had there, helped bring some really bright prospects through from the youth set-up, and delivered the kind of football that fans are excited to come and watch every week. Averaging crowds of over 5,000 in the second tier this season is no mean feat.

Hopeful with Housty: the manager has built brilliantly for the long-term

Hopeful with Housty: the manager has built brilliantly for the long-term

 

In terms of the squad, there’s a good balance of those emerging talents with really wise old senior pros like David McCracken, Mark Kerr and Miller. Those guys are basically the spine of the team, and then you’ve got younger, pacy guys in the wide areas.

When you look at all those factors together, it’s clear that the club is in a very healthy state, which hasn’t always been the case in years gone by.

Playing the football they have done in the last few years, I think they’ve been unfortunate not to go up, in so much as you’ve had really big clubs like Rangers, Hibs and Heart of Midlothian in the division – and they’re teams with huge resources.

Next season I think we’ll see a much closer title race, whether or not Falkirk are in the division.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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