FALKIRK leapfrogged both Hamilton and their visitors Dundee as they shot to the top of the Championship last night. They thoroughly deserved their victory over ten-man Dundee, replacing them at the top on goal difference, even if their win was tinged with controversy over the red card shown to Dundee goalkeeper Kyle Letheren.
Scorers: Falkirk - McGrandles 16; Loy 73
In extending their unbeaten run to ten matches dating back to October, Falkirk’s young squad are gaining the reward for “their hard work, day in and day out”, as manager Gary Holt said afterwards. But the Bairns are now there to be shot at and the Championship is far from over.
Falkirk dominated from the start, though had Dundee debutant Christian Nade’s ambitious shot after five minutes hit the target things might have been very different. As it was, Falkirk took charge and should have gone ahead after seven minutes when Kieran Duffie advanced down the right wing and sent in a low cross which Blair Alston hit on the volley, Letheren saving superbly.
Alston and Conor McGrandles then combined on the left wing after ten minutes, the latter finding Phil Roberts in the box, only for the striker to somehow shoot wide.
Roberts then turned provider for McGrandles to open the scoring after 16 minutes. Roberts outstripped James McAlister down the right wing and crossed low to McGrandles, who buried his shot in the corner of Letheren’s net. Falkirk were looking hungry and went in search of a second, while Dundee were misfiring and players such as new signing Stephen Hughes were posted missing.
Dundee nearly gifted Falkirk a second when Iain Davidson headed Mark Millar’s free kick towards his own goal, where Gary Irvine scrambled the ball away.
A sign of Falkirk’s pressure was that both Matthew Lockwood and Kyle Benedictus were booked for bad fouls on Alston and Roberts respectively. The bookings came either side of a gilt-edged chance for Falkirk, Rory Loy releasing Millar for a clear run on goal, his chance thwarted by the speedy reaction of Letheren who raced from goal to punch the ball clear. At the other end, Stephen Kingsley showed equally quick reactions in stopping Nade’s run with McAlister free on goal in the middle.
It was Nade’s last taste of action as the game’s biggest moment of controversy ensued. Loy benefited from a fall by Benedictus and raced in on goal, only for Letheren to bring him down. Referee Bobby Madden pointed straight to the spot and and produced the red card, with second-choice keeper Dan Twardzik coming on for Nade. As Stephen Hughes was also replaced by former fellow Ranger Gavin Rae at half time, it was not a good day for the new boys.
With his first touch, Twardzik saved Loy’s penalty, and after being the subject of transfer rumours in midweek, manager John Brown later said simply “he is going nowhere”.
Brown may be in trouble for his remark that Loy “conned the referee – the officials should have seen it better”. His opposite number, Gary Holt, was adamant that it was a penalty: “Rory Loy doesn’t know how to con anyone.”
Twardzik’s next touch should have been to pick the ball out of the Dundee net as Roberts broke through after only 20 seconds of the second half but shot wide.
With Rae exerting influence in the Dundee midfield, the visitors were noticeably better and defensively tighter in the second period, but Falkirk were still in charge and when Alston and Duffie combined to give Loy a chance, Twardzik got himself in the way. The substitute keeper pulled off a string of saves, including a thunderbolt from Craig Sibbald, before Falkirk got the second goal they merited. After 73 minutes, Roberts again beat McAlister for pace and his cross took a slight deflection into the path of Loy, whose shot from close range flashed high into the net.
Dundee earned credit from their second-half efforts, but the fact that substitute Martin Boyle’s 85th-minute shot forced Michael McGovern into his first serious save tells its own story.
Gary Holt’s men now sit proudly atop the Championship, and on this form they may well stay there.