In THE end it came down to a tale of two coupons. In the 25th minute, Will Vaulks of Falkirk instinctively decided to protect his face from being smacked by a hard Peter MacDonald cross, and thus conceded a penalty.
In the 93rd minute, his colleague Luke Leahy did not put his hands up and the ball deflected off his face into the Dundee goal for an equaliser that meant a scoreline which better reflected the balance of play.
“He’s telling me he meant it, but I know it hit his coupon and went in,” said a relieved Falkirk manager Gary Holt afterwards.
In a cold blustery wind, the opening 24 minutes was in the nature of an extended tenuous sparring session, with both defences packed and solid and neither side able to lend a telling blow, the best chance coming after 16 minutes when Nicky Riley cut in from the right and fired in a low left-foot curler that just shaded the outside of Michael McGovern’s left upright.
Suddenly the temperature upped a good few degrees. When MacDonald accidentally smacked the ball in the direction of Vaulks’ face, the big defender was standing just inside his penalty box and instinctively threw up his hands to defend his features, causing referee Stevie O’Reilly to point straight to the spot – it’s a harsh rule but as Dundee manager John Brown said afterwards: “If there is any handball in the box just say it is a penalty kick, because this rule is a joke through organisations trying to change it.”
Ryan Conroy stepped up and coolly sent McGovern the wrong way. Falkirk promptly raced to the other end where Gary Irvine was put under pressure and passed the ball back to goalkeeper Kyle Letheren, only to see Letheren in a different county from where Irvine thought he was.
Iain Davidson, who had an excellent match, raced back and hooked the ball to safety off the line.
Falkirk’s Conor McGrandles then had the ball in the net, but the assistant referee had already flagged Phil Roberts offside.
Strung by the injustice of it all, Falkirk enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure, but could make nothing of it, Rory Loy contriving to miss the sitter of the season after being put in by Roberts with only Letheren to beat, though all credit to the goalkeeper for his quick reactions that saw him save the ball low down.
It was Letheren – “he was in inspired form”, said Holt – who continued to thwart Falkirk in the second half as they went in search of an equaliser. First he tipped Jay Fulton’s angled shot onto the post and behind to safety, and then he quite superbly saved a goalbound effort from Roberts who had sprinted clear of the Dundee defence.
Holt sent on all three substitutes – Jon Flynn, Blair Alston and Leahy – as he looked for a way through the home defence and Flynn came closest to a breakthrough when that man Letheren superbly saved his effort from ten yards.
Dundee did attempt to look for a second goal that would have guaranteed the points, but could not create chances, with only Riley’s volley from 25 yards threatening the Falkirk goal and McGovern taking that one comfortably.
With Falkirk committing everything to attack late on, they were almost caught out twice, saved by McGovern on both occasions, but Leahy should have equalised with two minutes to go, failing to control Fulton’s long ball on the six yard line and punting wide.
He made no mistake in injury time, however, even if Leahy knew little about Loy’s cross deflecting off Alston and going in off his face.