BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NATHAN AUSTIN insists he will always owe a debt of gratitude to former boss Peter Houston for giving him a crack at full-time football. However, the Falkirk front-man is hopeful the appointment of Paul Hartley can herald the start of a bright new era for the club.
The 23-year-old joined the Bairns from East Fife in January 2016, with Houston taking a punt on the prolific, but undeniably raw, attacker who had bagged 43 goals in three campaigns in Methil.
That appears an increasingly shrewd move, with the promising attacker Falkirk’s joint top-scorer this term with five goals, and Austin was among the first to pass on his commiserations to the veteran coach when he was dismissed.
He said: “As soon as the news came through about Peter, the first time on my mind was ‘I need to drop him a text to wish him all the best’. I can only thank him for everything he did for me.
“He brought me to the club. I actually think I was the first player he spent a transfer fee on! It was really tough to see him go, especially as he did everything he could to develop me as a player.
“Before I came here I was very raw and not the best at holding up the ball and other aspects of the game. I’ve added that during my time at Falkirk, and am hopefully still as good at running in behind and roughing up defenders.
“But we didn’t put in the performances for him and I think we suffered from a lack of confidence in the side when we went on that poor run.
“It’s just part of the game that sometimes there will be a change of managers when things go against you, and we’re all really looking forward to kicking on under the new gaffer. Hopefully this is a new chapter for the club going forward.”
Hartley has wasted no time in making his mark this week, cracking the whip in training and emphasising that he fully intends to be in the promotion shake-up come May.
He continued: “It’s been really good so far. All the boys have bought into the new gaffer’s way of doing things and it’s been really intense and enjoyable so far.
“He’s already went around a lot of the boys individually and had a word in their ear – it’s not been about massive meetings – and everything has been done really professionally. It’s really positive.
“I remember watching the gaffer when he was playing for Scotland and he was a classy player on the ball, but he also had the heart, desire and a winning mentality. I’ve seen that already since he has come in, he sets really high standards and wants us to meet them.
“The gaffer has already made it clear that we want to be in the top four. It’s early in the season and anything other than top four for a club of this stature should be seen a massive underachievement.”
As well as being Hartley’s dugout debut for the Bairns, the precarious position of both clubs adds another dimension to a crunch clash.
Before a ball was kicked this term, the Bairns were many pundits’ favourites for promotion having secured consecutive second place finishes in the previous campaigns. Inverness, meanwhile, were expected to at least challenge for a playoff berth despite John Robertson being charged with an onerous rebuilding job.
Instead, the Highlanders are in the relegation playoff place, with Falkirk just one point better off.
Austin added: “There’s going to be a lot of pressure on both teams. These are sides that should be at the other end of the table, but hopefully it’s the perfect fixture to get a victory and start clawing our way up the division.”