FALKIRK remain unbeaten in competitive matches this season, but they only kept up that record after overcoming a spirited Dunfermline side in an entertaining encounter last night.
Scorers: Falkirk - Morris 19 og, Fulton 33; Dunfermline - Moore 28
Referee: S McLean
Although never behind in this League Cup second-round match, Gary Holt’s team had to dig deep to see off the visitors’ challenge, and looked edgy in the closing stages before eventually taking their place in tomorrow’s third-round draw at Easter Road.
The home team had just the better of a first half in which neither midfield appeared able or willing to slow the game down, and took a 2-1 lead into the interval. But, while more dominant in the second 45, the Championship side failed to claim the third goal that would have killed off Dunfermline’s hopes of a late recovery akin to the one they pulled off in League One at the weekend.
Having ended that game at Stenhousemuir in sensational style, winning the match with three goals in the closing six minutes, Dunfermline understandably began this one with an extra spring in their step. It was Falkirk who threatened first, though, when a diagonal ball over the top of the visitors’ defence led to a chance for Phil Roberts. The striker dealt with a high bounce by nodding the ball on into the box, but Ryan Scully came out of his goal smartly to block Roberts’ shot.
At the other end, Jordan Moore did well to create space for himself after receiving the ball on the left side of the 18-yard box. Cutting inside, he had a couple of opportunities to shoot before he eventually did so, and his effort was deflected for a corner.
As those two early incidents suggested, it was an open, enterprising game, with both sides appearing intent on forcing the issue in 90 minutes rather than allowing it to stretch into extra time or a possible penalty shoot-out. But when the deadlock was broken midway through the first half, the goal owed as much to mishap as it did to invention.
Timing his run down the right well, Kieran Duffie ran on to a pass then crossed low from close to the byeline on the right. It looked like the Falkirk player had failed to make the intended delivery, but Dunfermline’s Callum Morris slid in and, attempting to put the ball behind, only succeeded in steering it past Scully and into his own net.
“We’re going to win 5-4,” the Fife supporters sang defiantly. That always seemed improbable, but their team at least wasted little time on getting back on terms. A long free-kick into the box was headed down by Ryan Thomson into the path of Jordan Moore, and he shot home from ten yards or so. Undeterred by that setback, Falkirk regained the lead less than five minutes later. The Dunfermline defence were left flat-footed by some intelligent link-up work by Roberts, Craig Sibbald and Jay Fulton, at the end of which Fulton skipped clear, made a good angle for himself, then dinked in his finish from six yards.
The action continued unabated, and Dunfermline would have equalised in their very next attack but for some extremely sharp reflexes from Michael McGovern. A Ross Millen free-kick from the right was headed goalwards by Josh Falkingham from no more than three yards out, but McGovern reacted smartly to block, and after a quick scramble his defence were able to clear their lines.
After that, Falkirk were on top for the remainder of the half but could not extend their lead. Within minutes of the restart they thought they should have been given the chance to do so from the penalty spot when Roberts went down as Scully came out to challenge him, but the contact had seemed minimal and referee Steven McLean correctly refused the appeal for a spot kick.
In a second half that was markedly less open than the first, Falkirk dominated possession and territory without being able to create the chances that had come so readily before. When Dunfermline did break it was often thanks to good work by Falkingham, but their efforts were invariably smothered by Will Vaulks and Stephen Kingsley at the heart of the home defence.
Dunfermline substitute Alan Smith, the first replacement of the night from either team, did find a way through on the right after attacks through the middle had foundered. But, with McGovern standing up to him well, he shot across goal and wide of the far post.
Conor McGrandles came on for Sibbald a few minutes after Smith had made his appearance, then Luke Leahy replaced Alston. Leahy in particular looked lively as Falkirk sought to maintain the pressure right till the end.
In stoppage time Roberts broke clear and could have made the win more emphatic, but his shot went wide, meaning Falkirk had to be content with their one-goal margin of victory.
Falkirk: McGovern, Duffie, Dick (Flynn 88), Vaulks, Kingsley, Durojaiye, Alston (Leahy 80), Loy, Roberts, Fulton, Sibbald (McGrandles 68). Subs not used: Bowman, Shepherd.
Dunfermline: Scully, Millen (Dargo 90), Whittle, Johnston, Morris, Geggan, Wallace, Husband (Byrne 85), Moore, Falkingham, Thomson (Smith 64). Subs not used: Goodfellow, Kane.