FALKIRK kept hold of their play-off berth thanks to Will Vaulks’ winner against a ten-man visiting Raith Rovers side.
Falkirk - 1
Raith Rovers - 0
The Kirkcaldy men are now all but out of the play-off chase, ten points behind their hosts, and they will be regretting Liam Fox’s sending-off just before half-time.
That matters little to the Bairns, who remain two points ahead of Queen of the South with manager Peter Houston saying: “I thought we actually played better in the first half against 11 men than we did in the second against ten.
“We played some great football in the first 45 minutes but never got a goal.
“I am delighted with the three points as that is all that is important at this stage.”
The win lifts Houston’s side to within three points of Rangers and Hibs, and he added: “Things are clogging up and we still have Hibs to play. One of the other managers said recently that there would be lots of twists and turns and I agree. However, the important thing when it is like that is to win your games and we achieved that.”
David McCracken, who scored the goal that took Falkirk into a top-four place in midweek, was missing from their defence due to suspension, and his absence mattered little in the opening exchanges.
The game was being played in Raith’s half, but the first couple of corners earned created little danger.
There was danger in eight minutes when Blair Alston cleverly worked his way towards the Kirkcaldy goal before picking out Botti Biabi with a pass. The striker rolled the ball back to John Baird, and visiting goalkeeper David McGurn did well to push away his driven shot.
Raith, who came into the game following wins over Alloa, Queen of the South and Hibs, had their first chance on 16 minutes when Barrie McKay ignored home appeals that the ball had gone out of play to send Mark Stewart clear on goal.
The former Falkirk frontman took his time, but his parting shot was weak and easily saved by Jamie MacDonald.
Falkirk had an opening 11 minutes from the break when Alston and Craig Sibbald combined to give Luke Leahy an opportunity to cross, with Baird’s header flashing wide.
With half-time just 15 seconds away, Fox opted to slide in recklessly on Leahy near the halfway line, and referee Don Robertson instantly reached for his red card.
The ten men came within inches of taking the lead just two minutes after the restart, with half-time substitute Martin Scott denied by MacDonald and Ryan Conroy thumping the rebound against the woodwork.
Falkirk began to assert themselves and Alston’s 25-yard drive brought out a fine save from McGurn, with Baird blazing the rebound over.
The winning goal came just after the hour mark from a free kick conceded by Raith captain Jason Thomson for handball just a few yards from the byeline.
Alston swept the ball over with pace and Vaulks flicked it home from six yards out.
Baird headed over and Sibbald sent a low shot against a post as Falkirk looked for a clincher
Rovers boss Grant Murray said: “The timing of the sending-off just before the break did not help.
“I thought it was two players making wholehearted challenges but I have not seen it again so cannot really comment further.
“Things will be very difficult for us now in terms of the play-off but we have to go out and look to win our remaining games.”
Falkirk: MacDonald, Muirhead, Vaulks, Taiwo (Cooper 57), Alston, Sibbald, Kerr, Grant, Leahy, Biabi (Smith 74), Baird. Subs not used: Dick, Maybury, O’Hara, Morgan, Bowman.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Fox, Stewart, Callachan, Conroy (Anderson 78), Vaughan (Nade 84), McKay (Scott 46), McKeown, Barr. Subs not used: Hill, Moon, Elliot, Cuthbert.
Referee: D Robertson. Attendance: 4,032.