If any side is going to end up getting the better of Falkirk in the forthcoming play-offs, be they from the Premiership or Championship, they are going to have some fight on their hands.
Yet again Peter Houston’s team pulled a result out of the fire as the clock ticked down, just as they have against both Rangers and Hibs recently. Bob McHugh is clearly the current heir to the throne of the supersub tag, adding another late goal here to level the scores in a head to head against a Raith Rovers side that may very well be repeated when the end of season shakedown gets under way. It was honours even in more ways than one. The draw allowed the Kirkcaldy men to extend their own fine run of form to ten games unbeaten and while Falkirk could not take full advantage of Hibs’ stumble earlier in the afternoon at Greenock, the point retrieved here still leaves them in the driving seat in the chase with the Easter Road side to claim that coveted second spot in the Championship. Small wonder then that both managers could dig up a host of positives from the outcome.
“I can’t wait to go into the play-offs,” insisted Raith’s Ray McKinnon. “We played well, I’ve mixed the team a bit, I’ve got loads of players to come back into my thoughts, so I’m happy all round.”
Houston was no less effusive about his own squad. “The character of this group of players amazes me,” enthused the Falkirk manager. “If you look at recent matches – two down to Rangers and we win the game, two down to Hibs with ten men with three minutes to go and we draw – we’ve done it again today, twice chasing the game and we still show the character to come back.
“I still think, though, that Hibs will probably win their last two games which means we’ll need to win our last game against Morton to give ourselves that extra ten days to prepare and two games less.”
If this game was indeed a dress rehearsal for a further couple of matches between this pair we are in for some compelling entertainment. Raith, shaky initially, nevertheless made a fine start when Harry Panayiotou’s cross caused all sorts of disarray for the visitors’ rearguard and Joel Thomas was on hand to prod the loose ball over the line. Only a mixture of canny and sometimes nervy defending from Falkirk prevented McKinnon’s recast side from extending their lead while Ryan Hardie, who had two bites at the cherry, might have done better than loft an effort over the bar on the half-hour mark.
It’s not the first time that Houston’s men have looked like they needed the jump leads applied to get a sluggish opening 45 minutes out of their system. Only on the brink of half time did they conjure up a genuine hearts-in-mouth moment for the home support as Lee Miller just failed to get a nick on a Craig Sibbald cross.
Whatever words and various items they throw around that Falkirk dressing room at half-time, it certainly seems to make for a pretty effective cocktail. They were right back in it almost immediately, pinning Raith back around their own 18-yard line and hammering away at Kevin Cuthbert’s goal. Within ten minutes they had secured parity, the impressive Sibbald dispatching an angled shot into the far corner of the net.
It seemed we now had a perfect symmetry in this game – where the hosts had been industrious and creative across the width of the park before the interval, Houston’s men had picked up the torch upon the resumption. However, Raith served warning that they still had the capacity to land a blow when Hardie burst clear and forced Danny Rogers into a decent save. A few minutes later, another break and this time Hardie finally got the better of him, pouncing on a mistake by Blair Alston to divert the ball beyond the visitors’ goalkeeper.
The customary late rally from Falkirk was called for and they did not disappoint. The sight of the McHugh stepping off the bench must have made more than a few Raith fans fear the worst and sure enough with two minutes remaining he was on the spot to power in the equaliser from Scott Shepherd’s cross. It was well deserved and the visitors’ resilience will certainly be a powerful psychological weapon in the nerve-jangling finale that surely still lies ahead as the play-offs loom large.