HEARTS had to weather more than Storm Ciara as they squeezed their way into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.

Sean Clare’s penalty five minutes into the second-half was enough to see off League One Falkirk but it was the hosts who emerged with the most credit after three times coming within a whisker of an equaliser.

The woodwork was Hearts’ friend as Declan McManus on two occasions struck the upright before Gary Miller hit the crossbar. It was a night of small margins for the Bairns and Hearts manager Daniel Stendel confessed fortune had been on their side, but he insisted the victory was all that mattered.

“It wasn’t so easy but in the end it was important we won the game,” he said. “In some situations we had some luck but we have not had it in the last games. Today, it was on our side.

“They had some chances but you could see we were the better team. In the end, we scored. It was a penalty, it doesn’t matter. We scored, we won the game and this is the important point. In the end, I’m happy with the result.”

As kick-off approached, it was clear that both teams would have to find a way to defeat the conditions as well as their opponents. The galeforce winds and driving rain swirled horribly around the Falkirk Stadium and ensured the prospect of silky football was non-existent.

Hearts attempted to bypass the overhead conditions by keeping the ball on the deck right from the off, but the home side did their best to knock them off their stride throughout a tough encounter.

There was no danger of the Bairns’ artificial surface being made unplayable by the rain, which allowed the players to zip their passes around with speed. However, the winning goal was proof that once the ball was airborne the troubles started. Joel Pereira’s long clearance sailed over the home defence and Michael Doyle’s push on Liam Boyce was the game’s decisive moment.

Hearts twice worked openings down the left flank in the first quarter and had two penalty appeals waved away referee John Beaton. It was later to be a case of third time lucky for the Gorgie men.

The home side should have taken the lead with seven minutes remaining in a first half dominated by the conditions. A long clearance from keeper Robbie Mutch deceived Clevid Dikamona to allow Josh Todd a clear run on goal but the winger sliced his eventual shot high and wide.

The interval allowed some respite from the conditions and appeared to revitalise the players as the match suddenly burst to life in a remarkable 10-minute spell.

Hearts took the lead five minutes in. Pereira’s long ball sent Boyce scampering clear on goal and Michael Doyle panicked. He nudged the striker from behind and Beaton this time pointed to the spot. Clare’s penalty was taken with the confidence of someone scoring their fourth goal in five games.

Then, three times in the space of six minutes, Falkirk hit woodwork in search of the equaliser. First, McManus crashed his shot off the upright from close range at a corner. Just seconds later, he drilled beyond Pereira’s despairing dive from right side of the box but watched the same post deny him.

The Bairns again came within a whisker of the leveller. This time, Gary Miller sent in a magnificent effort in from 20 yards out, only for the crossbar to come to the visitors’ rescue.

Hearts substitute Euan Henderson clipped the top of the bar at the other end with just six minutes remaining but the frustrations were all Falkirk’s.

“We’re gutted,” admitted Bairns co-manager David McCracken. “Over the piece we created a number of opportunities. We started the second half pretty well but the penalty came against us and it’s disappointing.

“For us, a big positive was the way we reacted to it. We came back into it, we created a few opportunities and it’s the fine lines and taking those opportunities when you’re on top.”