THE hosts may have advanced to the next round, but there were few smiling faces filing out of the Falkirk Stadium at the end of a frustrating 90 minutes against a Cowdenbeath side who were hell-bent on avoiding another hammering.
This cup clash took place just over a month after the visitors’ 6-0 drubbing on league duty, with neither team resembling their performance from that memorable day.
Falkirk were laboured and sloppy in attack, while Cowdenbeath seemed to have discovered a newfound solidarity in defence. From the ramshackle mob who could have conceded into double figures a month ago, they turned into a resolute bunch who will feel unlucky not to have keep a clean sheet.
“I thought we were the only team that tried to win the game,” lamented Falkirk boss Peter Houston. “They wanted to either steal a goal or to try and take it back to Central Park. I knew what Jimmy [Nicholl] would do. He’s a smart manager and he changed tactics. And when a team sits in at the end of the 18-yard box it’s hard to play against, at any level.”
Despite their defensive tactics Cowdenbeath started the brighter of the two teams, successfully keeping possession by using the full width of their 3-5-2 formation. It led to a terrific chance in the ninth minute when the ball fell for Marcus Fraser, on loan from Celtic, but his first-time shot was cleared off the line by Will Vaulks.
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From there Falkirk stepped up and began to press their opponents higher up the park, leaving Cowdenbeath with few alternatives but to knock the ball long and retain their defensive shape.
“I thought the first half was not bad,” said manager Jimmy Nicholl. “But we didn’t use our possession well in the second, and there was poor decision-making in the 18-yard box. For me there wasn’t enough fight for a cup tie.”
The winner arrived 17 minutes from time. Rory Loy’s shot cannoned off Nat Wedderburn before dropping into the path of Craig Sibbald, pictured. Mercifully, the young midfielder saved everyone from another 90 minutes of this insomnia prescription by coolly rolling the ball under Robbie Thomson.
Sean Higgins could have secured an unlikely replay eight minutes from the end after the veteran striker wriggled between Jamie MacDonald and defender Peter Grant. However, from an acute angle, he could only watch his shot roll across goal and inch wide of the far post.
There was just enough time for a piece of hilarity from ex-Hearts winger David Smith. The substitute ran on to a pass, six yards out, open goal in front of him, and somehow scooped it over the crossbar. In fairness the hosts, and this game, didn’t deserve a second goal.
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