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Paul Hartley has left Falkirk in a fankle



It is hard to believe that just over three years ago Falkirk should have won the Scottish Cup.

Having matched top flight Caley Thistle from the off, they took control after Carl Tremarco's sending off and deservedly equalized against the ten men; at that point Inverness were out on their feet and there was only going to be one winner. Then Jamie MacDonald gifted a goal to James Vincent and Caley Thistle nicked the victory and the glory.

It's also hard to believe that the following Spring Falkirk probably should have been promoted to the Premiership - they deservedly beat Hibs (who were about to win the cup themselves) in the playoffs and took a first leg lead to Rugby Park in the finale only to run out of puff against Kilmarnock.

In fact, Falkirk should have been in the playoff final again in 2016/17, but conceded twice in the last fifteen minutes at home to Dundee United when ahead in the tie. You'd have fancied them to have done a better job than United against a dreadful Hamilton Accies side in the final.

Falkirk might have been out of the top tier since 2010, but only once in the next seven seasons did they come lower than third in the Championship - and that was the season where they had their momentous cup run.

How times change.

Fast forward to the end of August 2018, and the club appears to be going through some sort of footballing apocalypse. Paul Hartley became the second manager in the country to be punted this season, and it was no surprise to anyone. Not only are they bottom of the table with three defeats out of three, but the statistics from their loss at home to Queen of the South tell their own story - one of a performance so utterly abject that a manager simply cannot survive it. It was 3-0 going on seven or eight.

Even before that match his jacket was on a shoogly peg given there had also been a League Cup loss at Montrose and only a narrow Challenge Cup win with a first-choice XI against Rangers Colts. The defeat to the Doonhamers only hastened the inevitable.

In past times - and in times as recent as October 2017, when Hartley was appointed, the Falkirk job would have been an attractive one. It is a club with a support base comparable to other Championshp clubs and therefore with plenty of potential to return to the Premiership. There was also a very successful youth academy to boot. In those seven years following relegation Jay Fulton, Stephen Kingsley, Murray Wallace, Conor McGrandles, Botti Biabi, Ryan Blair and Tony Gallacher were all developed and sold on for six (in the case of McGrandles, seven) figure sums.

But that academy was disbanded in December 2017, with the club claiming that despite the sales of so many players in recent years the model was no longer sustainable. Given the past record of success, this was a damning indictment of youth football in this country, but that's another story.

Instead all resources would be concentrated on the first team - and they were. In less than eleven months Hartley signed twenty-five players either on loan or permanently (including fifteen in this transfer window alone), getting rid of most that he inherited. Only seven players still on the books precede him, including two reserve goalkeepers and two players, Alex Harris and Joe McKee, who had been frozen out and who may yet have futures under the new regime.

Hartley turned things around last season thanks to an excellent January in which he procured some excellent loan signings from down south, particularly forwards Alex Jakubiak and Andrew Nelson. Neither remained beyond May, and the strikers signed this window have been poor...as indeed have nearly all the summer newcomers. The English lower league market was aggressively targeted for rough diamonds - a strategy that has worked well for other Scottish clubs in the past - but it has turned up little more than fool's gold on this occasion.

Therefore a change of manager seems unlikely to be sufficient to clear up the mess quickly. An appointment will surely not be made before the transfer window shuts and new rules prevent any loan signings from then until January. The new boss will have to make do with what he has, which at the moment are a load of Hartley signings who do not look up to the task.

Worse, this year's Championship is as competitive as ever. Whilst the sole part-timers Alloa are surely doomed, there are no other teams who are certs to finish in the bottom half; Queen of the South, who humbled the Bairns at the weekend, probably have one of the lowest budgets in the division. The worry is that by the time Falkirk become competitive this season they could already be so far adrift that ninth place and a playoff to avoid relegation is their best hope.

And that's just this season. The damage to the first team will take a long time to repair, the youth academy is gone and the promised land of the Premiership is as far away as it has been since they last graced it. Falkirk's future looks uncertain.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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