IN THE end, it was comfortable for Falkirk, who scored three times in the last quarter of a match that was Steven Pressley’s first since he missed out on the Dundee United job.
Falkirk - Taylor 19, 84; Murdoch 67; Weatherston 75
Forfar Athletic - I Campbell 21 pen
Two goals by Lyle Taylor, as well as one each for Stewart Murdoch and David Weatherston, guaranteed the First Division side a place in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals.
They were slow to kill off their part-time opponents and, indeed, might have been staring a shock exit in the face had Gavin Swankie scored with a free header early in the second half. But Pressley said that he was proud of the way his players had come good on a playing surface that did not suit their passing principles.
The sheer volume of rain that had fallen on Friday was such that there had been doubt over whether the match would go ahead. Although the pitch passed an early-morning inspection, the surface was heavy, uneven and, in some areas, treacherous, not least around the dugouts, where it looked as though a few bags of sand had been dumped before kick-off.
“The pitch is like a cow field,” said Pressley. “It was a terrible surface. For the style of football that we work religiously on, we need something better than that. If it had been a normal league game, it wouldn’t have gone ahead. It was appalling. I didn’t realise what the players had to put up with until I went on the pitch at the end. It was truly terrible.
“That’s why it was an outstanding result and performance. It tested our philosophy. It tested the way we wanted to play. But the players didn’t waver. They kept playing and playing, and eventually their persistence and passing wore them down.”
It was just what Pressley, pictured right, needed after a week in which his commitment to the club had been questioned. He spoke with Dundee United about the managerial vacancy at Tannadice, only to discover that it had been filled by Jackie McNamara. “They’ve made a terrific decision,” said Pressley. “Jackie’s an extremely good young manager, and I’m sure he’ll do a wonderful job. I’ve never been unhappy at this club. I love my work here. I work tirelessly to make this club better, and I truly believe in the way we are going.”
But for long spells, Falkirk made little headway. In the first half, their Second Division opponents matched them, despite the gift of an early goal. Some 19 minutes had gone when Blair Alston chipped a pass inside. Stephen Tulloch, the Forfar centre-half, would love to blame the conditions for his failure to mop up but it was plain bad defending that allowed Taylor to seize possession. From 12 yards out, the striker clipped it low past Darren Hill.
Ordinarily, that kind of setback causes a lower-division side to lose heart, but not Forfar. Within a couple of minutes, they were up at the other end of the park, earning themselves a penalty when Stephen Kingsley caught Chris Templeman’s ankle. From the spot, Iain Campbell pulled his shot low into the bottom right-hand corner.
Falkirk had a chance to restore their advantage when Taylor’s shot whistled past, but their failure to do so meant that they were jeered off at half-time. A goal apiece was not good enough for their fans, who knew that it might have been worse. When Michael McGovern kicked a clearance straight to Swankie, the resulting shot had to be saved by a relieved Falkirk goalkeeper.
Even early in the second half, Falkirk’s passing game bore little fruit. If anything, it was Forfar who looked likelier to score a second. First, Mark McCulloch set up Gavin Malin with a lovely curving ball beyond the back four, but the midfielder lofted his shot over the bar. Then, Swankie found himself with a free header, after a cross by Dale Hilson, but his lame effort looped up into the sky and down into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Forfar, though, could not be expected to keep this up, and they didn’t. As the game wore on, their opponents, hitherto guilty of over-elaborating on the edge of the box, got themselves into increasingly dangerous areas. When Taylor hooked Kieran Duffie’s cross back across goal, Sean Higgins’ shot was deflected wide. Then, midway through the second half, came Falkirk’s second, when Higgins swung in a corner and Stewart Murdoch rose to meet it. Although Taylor had a swing at the ball as it passed him in the six-yard box, he succeeded only in distracting the goalkeeper. The goal was Murdoch’s.
Eight minutes later, Falkirk scored their third. Murdoch set up the chance with a clever through-ball that Weatherston, the substitute, dinked over the goalkeeper. And that was that for a Forfar side who had run out of ideas, puff and the will to do anything other than limit the damage.
Although a Weatherston shot was cleared off the line, they could do nothing to stop Taylor grabbing a second when he charged on to a backheel flick by Alston and rammed it in off the goalkeeper.
Falkirk: McGovern, Duffie, Dods, Flynn, Kingsley, Alston, Murdoch, McGrandles (Weatherston 66), J Fulton (D Fulton 87), Higgins (Grant 87), Taylor.
Forfar: Hill, McCulloch, Bolochoweckyj, Tulloch, I Campbell, Hilson (Denholm 74), R Campbell, Faero (Fotheringham 76), Malin (Brown 76), Swankie, Templeman.
Referee: K Clancy. Attendance: 1,967