ONE corker of a strike, one howling miss and one red card. Such was the ebb and flow of the occasion at Hamilton yesterday that there shouldn’t necessarily have been one of these First Division teams moving into the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup at Hampden without a replay. But, in two-goal Blair Alston, Falkirk had the one man who mattered.
Hamilton 1 (Ryan) Falkirk 2 (Alston x2)
Referee: Willie Collum
Bookings: Hamilton (Mackinnon); Falkirk (Alston, Taylor, Higgins)
Red cards: Hamilton (Page)
Having produced a crisp finish to put his team ahead on the cusp of half-time, in the 71st minute he bazooka’d a 25-yard drive into the top corner that was of jaw-dropping quality. “I have definitely never scored a goal like that before, and I don’t think I ever will again,” said the 21-year-old. “When you hit a ball like that, it is quite special.” So special, he had 16 text messages waiting for him when “normally I might get one from my dad”.
The texts awaiting Hamilton’s Andy Ryan, meanwhile, are likely to have been so bleak, there is every chance he would have thought twice about opening them. Within a couple of minutes of entering the field immediately after his team had gone 2-0 down, the youngster netted to put the tie back in the mix. But then with ten minutes remaining, from point-blank range, he turned a Stevie May cross over the bar.
“I completely misjudged it,” said Ryan, who deserves a commendation for agreeing to discuss his
disaster. “It was put on a plate for me and I have to score. Said I was sorry to the guys at full-time but they said I wasn’t the only one to miss a chance.”
Falkirk manager Steven Pressley did not miss his chance to gush: “A wonderful cup-tie full of incident,” he said, claiming his club has a “true identity and a heartbeat”, and revelling in the fact that they can now prepare themselves for a second cup semi-final at Hampden in two seasons following last year’s in the League Cup against Celtic.
“I lost two players straight after that and the one thing about this semi-final is I hope that we have breathing space so we don’t have to lose players. It is one thing developing them but you want to be able to keep them to build a team.”
Hamilton’s prospects of a first Scottish Cup semi-final since 1935 were always dulled by their pairing with Falkirk, who the home side’s manager Billy Reid admitted were a “bogey” team, who they have not beaten in their past nine attempts. “Even when we have deserved something against them, we haven’t got it, and I thought we deserved at least another chance in this tie.”
It was hard to argue with that analysis on a day when Gary Fisher, on-loan from Kilmarnock, proved a consistently beaverish, burrowing presence for the home side. He might have put Hamilton in front but for shooting at keeper Michael McGovern when darting through.
David Weatherston did likewise from a similar opportunity at the other end, but just as it seemed the tie would remain goalless at the interval, a sleek move resulted in Thomas Grant sliding over a low cross from the byline that Alston deftly touched beyond the Hamilton keeper from the front post.
Alston’s classic hit then seemed to end hopes of only Hamilton’s third quarter-final 45 years producing an outcome different to the previous two before Ryan found the net by poking a shot which Liam Dick slid in to block, only to succeed in
turning the ball over his own line.
Then came the teenager’s “unbelievable chance” that left his manager “devastated” for him. “I can look the players in the eye because they gave me everything, didn’t allow their heads to go down at 2-0, and we were the better team.”
By the end, they were a ten-man team, with Jonathan Page receiving an injury-time straight red card for a horrible-looking two-footed lunge on Lyle Taylor, who had earlier smacked an effort off the crossbar. “He came through the guy. We have no complaints. It was just frustration.” There was plenty frustration to go around in the home ranks.