WHEN Falkirk striker Lyle Taylor was left writhing in agony following a lunge that earned Hamilton defender Jonathan Page a straight red card in added time, the incident seemed a footnote.
Hamilton 1 - 2 Falkirk
SCORERS: Hamilton Accies - Ryan (74); Falkirk - Alston (44), (71)
It came at the close of an engrossing all-First Division Scottish Cup quarter-final illuminated by a beezer of a biff from double-scorer and Falkirk matchwinner Blair Alston, and which contained all manner of talking points.
The anger felt by the impressively articulate Taylor over the challenge, however, meant the Londoner was not prepared to let Page’s indiscretion remain a footnote when dispensing his thoughts to the press afterwards.
“It was a disgraceful tackle,” said the 22-year-old, who complained of soreness. “He was off the ground, but thankfully I saw him out of the corner of my eye because if my foot was on the ground it could be a lot wore than it was.”
Asked if by worse he meant “a potential leg-breaker”, Taylor stated: “I honestly believe it was. It was two-footed, off the ground. You can’t tackle like that. It is disgraceful that anyone would think you could even tackle like that.”
With the tie setting up a semi-final Taylor agreed will be the biggest game of a career which has previously taken him to Bournemouth from the English non-league ranks, this “reward” eclipsed any rancour. And for a player with 25 goals to his name this season, watching Alston smear a first-time, on-the-bounce drive into the top right-hand corner of Scott Cuthbert’s net proved as rewarding as any net-bulging moments he has been responsible for.
“You won’t see many better strikes than that. For me, that’s goal of the season,” said Taylor, with Alston describing it as the best goal he will ever score. “The way he shaped up I thought it was coming to me and I could deflect it, but it flew straight over my head. I thought ‘wow’, and the fans behind the goal erupted. Such a great feeling to score a goal like that but when your team-mate does it in such an important game it’s just as good a feeling, honestly.”
Taylor acknowledged that Hamilton had dictated the game and that the visitors scored against the run of play with Alston’s first goal on the stroke of half-time. It appeared to be tie over when he added his wondrous second but the appearance of Andy Ryan from the bench seconds later changed the complexion of the game. The teenager pulled one back for Billy Reid’s side within three minutes. Yet the afternoon became one that will give him many sleepless nights when, with 10 minutes remaining, he inexplicably scooped the ball over the bar from five yards out after Stevie May delivered the perfect cross. “I completely misjudged it,” Ryan said. “It was put on a plate for me and I have to score. I said sorry to the guys at full-time but they said I wasn’t the only one to miss a chance.”
Taylor called that tie-changing break “the luck you get when you work hard”. Both sides, and particularly the vanquished Hamilton, gave it everything, as their manager Reid reflected on with pain but pride afterwards. The Lanarkshire side have now failed to beat Falkirk in the club’s past nine meetings, a “bogey” which helped extend their absence from the semi-final stage of the Scottish Cup since 1935.
The fact Falkirk manager Steven Pressley has now made serious inroads into a competition he won with three different teams wasn’t a sideline he had any interest in musing on. The win that earned a second semi-final in two seasons for his “development” club that has “a true identity and a heartbeat” was a “testament” to his players.
His only hope is that the aftermath of their last-four meeting this season will prove different to what followed the narrow defeat by Celtic in the League Cup semi-final last season. “I lost two players straight after that and the one thing about this semi-final is that I hope we have some breathing space that we don’t have to lose players. It is one thing developing them but you want to be able to keep them to build a team.”