NEVER mind the events at Celtic Park the previous night. It was Falkirk Stadium which bore witness truly to one of those blue moon football events.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Shaughnessy (23), Smith (36) Vernon (54, 55, 75 pen)
Referee: S McLean
Aberdeen, newly installed as League Cup favourites following the demise of Neil Lennon’s side, playing a Championship club has been juicily ripe upset territory of recent tradition. Not last night, not Derek McInnes’s thrusting young team. They blew Falkirk away and were as imperious as the pre-match form suggested they really ought to be.
And, following a third-round tie that served up that rarity of a hat-trick from a substitute –Scott Vernon bagging all three of his goals inside 22 second-half minutes – there is every right to expect that the Pittodrie club should be targeting this League Cup competition as their opportunity to win a trophy for the first time since 1995.
It might sound an odd thing to say but the tie was over before Vernon put his stamp all over it – as he had in netting the strike that undid Premiership leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle the previous weekend. Having been completely outplayed, Falkirk were never going to find a way back after strikes by Joe Shaughnessy and Cammy Smith made Aberdeen armchair-comfortable by half time. Vernon ensured their cosiness became blissful within ten minutes of the restart by netting twice inside a matter of seconds, stabbing in at the back post after the home defence had failed to deal with Clark Robertson’s back-flick, and then ramming the ball low into the net after following up a Smith shot blocked by Michael McGovern. He completed his triple from the spot after another real rarity – a penalty for a trip on Peter Pawlett.
Perhaps it was because the tie was on the telly, or maybe the stakes suddenly seemed raised in the aftermath of Celtic being turfed out of the tournament, that accounted for the opening minutes proving a veritable chance-fest. Only seconds
separated Calvin Zola having a header blocked in the goalmouth by home defender Stephen Kingsley and Jamie Langfield having to drop sharply to thwart Jay Fulton after the midfielder had slid beyond the Aberdeen defence to connect with an inviting cross.
A breathless enough spell, the gasping continued when play instantly raged up the field and Johnny Hayes found himself sprinting in on goal
with only McGovern to beat. He sized up the angles as if a slow golfer judging a putt and still failed to knock the ball past the keeper, Nicky Low then skying over the rebound.
There had to be an easing up of this frenzy and, when that happened, Aberdeen merely settled for bossing the encounter.
Much had been made of the vigour and vim with which Falkirk manager Gary Holt would ensure his coltish team played. Indeed, emboldened by their weekend 3-1 win over subsequent team-of-the-week Morton, club striker Rory Loy had predicted his team would outplay their cup opponents. He clearly didn’t take account of the fact that Aberdeen, with six players 22 or under and momentum gained from the victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, could be in the mood to play their football.
The fact that they most certainly were in the mood allowed them to, frankly, run over the top of their hosts. And the starting point was a 22nd minute opener that followed a long throw down the left from Clark Robertson that bounced about the penalty box before Shaughnessy controlled it and despatched it into the far corner of the home net.
The early warning signs had all been there for the Championship club, but a few flashing ambers were also going off in the head of visiting manager McInnes. Having been booked in only six minutes after clattering into McGovern in gruesomely reckless fashion, Zola continued to bound around with no thought for his or anyone else’s personal safety. After a couple of more challenges and a word in his ear from referee Steven McLean, McInnes acted to remove the forward from the field before even half an hour had been played. Vernon was brought on in his place and did not disrupt the flow or the pattern.
Aberdeen’s second was the sort of goal a team scores when feeling good about themselves, Hayes sending over a sweeping left-wing cross that dropped beyond the back post for Shaughnessy to nod in to the path of Smith and allow the 17-year-old to batter the ball past McGovern from eight yards.
It was a finish of conviction, and Aberdeen had oodles of that throughout the evening. So much, in fact, their fans are entitled to believe that everything is coming together sufficiently for them to have a season that might not be typically forgettable. For once in a blue moon.
Falkirk: McGovern, Duffy, Kingsley, Flynn, Vaulks, Fulton, Alston (Bingham, 56), Sibbald, McGrandles, Loy, Roberts (Leahy, 66). Unused substitutes: Bowman, Turnbull, McCracken
Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy, Robertson, Reynolds, Hector, Hayes (Murray 67), Smith (Magennis 80), Pawlett, Low, Jack, Zola (Vernon, 33). Unused substitutes: Weaver, Wylde