This was never likely to be a night when fortunes were decided but it was one that could have had a major bearing on how this season plays out and it will be Falkirk who travel to Rugby Park on Sunday in the ascendency after yet another dramatic stoppage- time winner.
Into the 91st minute, a well-worked free-kick gave Will Vaulks the opportunity to find the net from the edge of the box. His gymnastic celebrations were impressive but it is Kilmarnock who will be in a spin.
With a place in the top flight dependent on the outcome of this two-legged play-off final, the pre-match assertion of Falkirk manager Peter Houston was that his Championship side remained the underdogs. The bookies agreed with him but not many of those who have watched both sides this term will be wagering their mortgage on that.
Given the way the second-tier teams have fared against those in the league above this season, there was nothing to suggest that Kilmarnock would be a class apart.
Add to that the fact that one team headed into this tie surfing a wave of confidence and expectation that comes from their spirit and their consistency, while the other side has spent the season skirting with relegation, bogged down by a campaign of Jekyll and Hyde performances. One had the momentum, the other shouldered all the pressure.
Falkirk have defied odds all season, showing no signs of inferiority when up against bigger and wealthier opponents. Matching champions Rangers in head to heads and finishing above Hibs in the league standings, they signalled the end of the Leith club’s promotion hopes on Friday when they reprised their well-versed and well-executed knack of scoring late goals. A side who do not seem to know when they are beaten and, as a consequence, rarely have been this term, they carried momentum into this match.
In contrast, Lee Clark’s side must have grown used to losing. Yet it was the Rugby Park team who started the brighter, showing fewer nerves than anticipated, given the fact they have spent the season staring into an abyss and have thus far been unable to do anything to assuage the fear.
With four minutes gone Paul Watson had to clear off the line after Gary Dicker had knocked the ball into Kris Boyd, who shot on the turn.
Killie, who surprised their opposition with the omission of Josh Magennis from the teamsheet were still showing some menace and it took a while for Falkirk to settle and get their passing going, but the final ball and end result were still missing as the game became more stretched. Craig Sibbald and Bob McHugh linked up in the 20th minute and when their endeavour set up Blair Alston on the edge of the box, he forced a save from Jamie MacDonald.
A few minutes later, there was a penalty appeal as Mark O’Hara put in a challenge on Sibbald, but while Falkirk raged, referee John Beaton was unconvinced. In the 29th minute Falkirk again tried to find the breakthrough, but when MacDonald failed to hold McHugh’s rasping drive, John Baird was on it too sharply and couldn’t keep the follow-up effort down.
But having worked to avoid automatic relegation, Kilmarnock were not about to voluntarily jump through the trapdoor and although they were too pedantic in the build-up going forward or too adventurous with their long angled balls upfield, they were showing some character and desire.
Miles Addison made a timely intercept in the 31st minute, cutting out Alston’s driven ball across the face of goal before the waiting McHugh could pounce. A good spell for Falkirk, it was an open game, with the double rainbow that appeared in the void opposite the main stand serving as a reminder of the pot of gold that awaited the team to come out on top of this tie.
Kilmarnock had their best spell at the start of the second half, with Boyd coming close from a corner but Sibbald was on the line to head over. Boyd then released Tope Obadeyi with a ball over the top but despite running in on goal and rounding goalkeeper Danny Rogers, he played his shot into the side netting.
Sibbald was in the right place at the right time again, getting a boot in to deny Boyd at the back post and allow Rogers to gather. Both teams chased the decisive goal in the closing stages but one team makes a habit of scoring late winners.