Dundee United 2-2 Falkirk: Battling Bairns in the box seat

They're blue, they're white and they are now in the driving '¨seat going into Friday night. Falkirk twice came back after trailing at Tannadice to bolster their hopes of contesting a second successive Premiership play-off final.

Willo Flood looks on as Joe McKees free-kick beats Dundee United goalkeeper Cammy Bell. Picture: SNS
Willo Flood looks on as Joe McKees free-kick beats Dundee United goalkeeper Cammy Bell. Picture: SNS

But, judging by last night’s see-sawing affair, nothing is guaranteed in the second leg of an entertaining tie that has already produced four high quality goals.

Just as Dundee United turned things around against Morton last Tuesday, Falkirk survived an unsure opening spell where they lost the first goal – Simon Murray’s 17th strike of the season – to impose themselves on the tie.

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James Craigen equalised for the visitors with a memorable scissors kick but United’s form men were once again to the fore.

Murray set up Blair Spittal and the midfielder scored his fourth goal in five outings eight minutes into the second half.

Falkirk were not to be denied. Joe McKee’s 20-yard free-kick just six minutes later drew them level again. Falkirk keeper Robbie Thomson was called into action in the dying moments to claw away Thomas Mikkelsen’s header as the game got the exciting conclusion it deserved.

Fortunately we only have to wait a little over two days until the second instalment although the players from both sides might not agree after giving everything here on a lush, energy-sapping pitch.

United were by far the more sure-footed of the teams at the start, with Murray a conspicuous and constant menace. The home side secured the lead their efforts deserved after a long kick-out from Cammy Bell was flicked on by Mikkelsen into the path of Murray, whose finish was as composed as you’d expect from someone operating with such confidence.

The striker took a touch before burying the ball past Thomson before celebrating his third goal in three play-off outings in front of the home fans.

But United’s gameplan had already needed to be tweaked. Right-back Stewart Murdoch was replaced by Sean Dillon just seven minutes in after picking up an injury while challenging Nathan Austin.

Dillon’s initial struggle to cope with the pace of the game was understandable given he’s made only one appearance since February. But Falkirk were hardly likely to be sympathetic and mercilessly attacked the hosts down the left.

A Luke Leahy cross should have been turned in by one of a trio of Falkirk forwards attacking the six-yard box.

United were finally undone not from the left but from the right. A cross from McKee was met in the air by Craigen, who flipped himself up in the air eight yards from goal. The ball was nestling in the far corner of Bell’s net by the time Craigen picked himself up from the turf to gleefully savour the result of his 
acrobatics.

If Falkirk have any regrets about last night it is that they did not take the chance to put themselves in a commanding position between grabbing this equaliser and half-time.

The hosts were simply relieved to make it to the interval still on level terms. But United started to rebuild the momentum lost in the opening half from the re-start.

Even the most casual glance back at their play-off game v Morton shows they are dangerous just after the break. Usually it is Murray who pounces. But on this occasion it was the equally in-form Spittal who rifled a precise drive into the corner from just inside the box after good work from Murray, who nudged the ball into his path.

But again United failed to consolidate this lead and succeeded only in throwing it away. It was an admittedly spectacular free-kick strike from McKee after Willo Flood had pulled down Austin 20 yards from goal. But had his positioning been less suspect Bell could and perhaps should have saved it.